“Storefront Church,” John Patrick Shanley’s new play, finishes his Church-State trilogy with a hard-edged look at the mortgage crisis, greed, and redemption—at San Francisco Playhouse through January 11, 2014
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley’s new play Storefront Church, at San Francisco Playhouse, transports the audience to a wintery Bronx, where a disenchanted and broke preacher has lost his faith while trying to start over in New York after his New Orleans church was washed away by Katrina. His Latina landlady, Jesse, has taken out a second mortgage trying to help him pay for the renovation of the storefront church. Her Jewish husband, Ethan, a retired tax accountant, pays a visit to an unsympathetic loan officer at the bank that is about to foreclose on her. Donaldo, the Bronx Borough president, who has known Jessie since his childhood tries to intervene and the bank’s CEO seizes the moment to enlist borough support for a new mall he hopes to finance. It sounds dismal but it all ends on a hopeful note— the preacher conquers his despair enough to deliver a sermon; the characters reconnect with their faith; Jesse gets to keep her property; the mall is given the green light with a percentage of the space allocated for community use.
In 2005, Shanley won a Pulitzer Prize in drama and a Tony Award for best play for “Doubt” in which a strict nun accuses a highly respected priest of being sexually inappropriate with one of the school students under her charge. “Doubt” was the first in Shanley’s trilogy of Church and State plays; the second play, “Defiance,” from 2006, explored racism and the disunity it caused aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina as the Vietnam War was winding down. “Storefront Church” is an exploration of contemporary society’s lack of faith and of the plight of the individual striving to survive in a world dominated by corporate greed.
While “Storefront Church” is less powerful than the other two plays in the triad, it is a moving portrait of our troubling times, when one’s convictions and sense of self are under constant siege and achieving and maintaining financial security is a game few succeed at. In order to cover overarching themes, Shanley sacrifices character development resulting in some confusion about back stories and relationships. Director Joy Carlin has assembled a talented cast— popular Bay Area actors Derek Fischer (CEO of the bank), Rod Gnapp (bank loan officer), Carl Lumbly (Pastor Chester), Gabriel Marin (Borough President), Ray Reinheart (Ethan, Jesse’s husband), and Gloria Weinstock (Jesse). As usual, San Francisco Playhouse’s staging is impeccable.
Stay-tuned to San Francisco Playhouse…Director Bill English says their next play, Jez Butterworth’s “Jerusalem,” (January 21-March 8), is “probably the best play written in the 21st century so far.” I’ve come to trust Bill English…he serves us our moral peas and carrots in the most interesting dishes. He promises that the San Francisco Playhouse’s production will be the “first American” production of the play that earned raves at London’s Royal Court in 2009. It makes frequent allusions to Blake’s poem from which its title is derived.
Details: Storefront Church ends Saturday, January 11, 2014. San Francisco Playhouse is located at 450 Post Street (2nd Floor of Kensington Park Hotel, b/n Powell & Mason) Performances: Tuesday to Thursday 7pm, Friday and Saturday 8pm. Matinees: 3pm Saturdays; 2pm Sunday on 1.5.14 Tickets: $30-$100. For more information visit www.sfplayhouse.org or call the box office at (415) 677-9596.
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