(Cover Photo: R.A. Vanasse as "Gardner Church" in a scene from Tina Howe's "PAINTING CHURCHES" from Pilgrim Soul Productions in Whitinsville, MA. now playing through November 12, 2023. Photo Courtesy Pilgrim Soul Productions)
By Kevin T. Baldwin
“FOR GOD'S SAKE WILL YOU STOP THAT DREADFUL TYPING BEFORE YOU SEND ME TO THE NUT HOUSE?"
- ("Fanny") / Tina Howe
Written by Tina Howe
Directed by Jim Porter
Artistic Director Matthew J. Carr
Cast Includes: Bunny Porter as "Fanny Church"; R.A. Vanasse as "Gardner Church"; Cherry Lynn Zinger as "Margaret Church"
Additional Creative Team:
Stage Managers - Pam Darling and Susan Nest; Assistant Stage Manager - Todd Darling; Set Design and Set Dressing - Nancy Stevenson; Set Construction - Scott Taylor; Lighting Design - Chris Gates; Props - Ellen O'Neall-Waite; Costumes - the CAST; House Manager - Kelly Paquin; Program Design - Bob Vanasse.
November 3, 4, 10 & 11, 2023 at 7:30pm
November 12, 2023 at 2:00pm
$25.00 regular admission; $22.00 under 18/over 64; $20.00 groups of 10 or more
Singh Performance Center, Historic Whitin Mill, 60 Douglas Road, Whitinsville, MA.
Phone # 508-296-0797 or Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets are also available at the door. Cash or check only. No Credit Cards.
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Howe’s play, admirably directed by Jim Porter, focuses on the final leg of an odyssey undertaken by an artist daughter who returns home to help her aging parents pack up their belongings before they depart from their Beacon Hill home in Boston.
While there, she is determined to paint the couple in their “own environment” one last time before they leave home…for good.
(Photo: Bunny Porter as "Fanny Church" and R.A. Vanasse as "Gardner Church" in a scene from Tina Howe's "PAINTING CHURCHES" from Pilgrim Soul Productions in Whitinsville, MA. now playing through November 12, 2023. Photo Courtesy Pilgrim Soul Productions)
"PAINTING CHURCHES" debuted Off-Broadway in 1983 and ran until 1984 and was finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
As soon as the young artist, Margaret (Cherry Lynn Zinger), arrives, her parents, Fanny (Bunny Porter) and Gardner (R.A. Vanasse) are already in the midst of packing.
It is quite a common occurrence for to state in a review how a cast in a show has a certain obvious “chemistry” on stage with one another.
I can’t say that here - but it isn’t because of any lack of connection by the Pilgrim Soul trio of actors.
It is actually a device utilized by Howe to illustrate the "disconnect," in a more ethereal, cerebral way, the absence of chemistry in this family – to highlight the completely isolated hell in which each of these people exists.
Gardner, wonderfully portrayed by Vanasse, is a wealthy, renowned poet, a contemporary of the likes of Robert Frost, who has now begun to feel the ravages of time, becoming elderly, incontinent and facing severe bouts of dementia.
Fanny is a bitter, eccentric woman who seemingly exists on a totally different plane of existence from Gardner and Margaret.
Porter showcases well the cruel side of Margaret's mother, who puts down her daughter at nearly every turn, while seeming to revel in her husband's sad mental and physical downward spiral.
Whether or not she is fully cognizant of her mean spiritedness is not altogether clear as she appears to cycle between playful and frustrated throughout the story.
(Photo: Cherry Lynn Zinger as "Margaret Church" and R.A. Vanasse as "Gardner Church" with a friend in a scene from Tina Howe's "PAINTING CHURCHES" from Pilgrim Soul Productions in Whitinsville, MA. now playing through November 12, 2023. Photo Courtesy Pilgrim Soul Productions)
Margaret, aka “Mags,” is so focused on her own wanting to paint the image of what she believes to be her parents, she cannot actually see her parents for the bizarre, declining duo they have become.
During her stay with them and over the course of several days, Mags sees her role in the parent-child relationship changing, as it does for most of us.
However, as finely conveyed through Zinger's portrayal, with the blinders she has on, Mags still speaks with them (when she actually “connects” with them in a conversation).
Yet, to her parents, Mags is still their upstart teenager, not the accomplished adult she has become, not the accomplished artist she has become, which exacerbates her frustration with both of them.
Will she even be able to complete the painting and, more importantly, should the painting even exist? Only Mags can make that call but she seems determined to try.
(Photo: R.A. Vanasse as "Gardner Church" in a scene from Tina Howe's "PAINTING CHURCHES" from Pilgrim Soul Productions in Whitinsville, MA. now playing through November 12, 2023. Photo Courtesy Pilgrim Soul Productions)
To heighten the disconnect inherent in this family, some of Howe's monologues for these three characters feel as if they could have been staged by each of them speaking out directly to the audience in an isolated light with the other characters holding in a freeze.
As written, there are numerous times when they "speak to one another" that it seems as if it does not require the actual presence of the others they are supposedly speaking to on stage.
In fact, as written, this incongruous trio could be performing in three separate variants of the same play on three separate stages and the lines would, very likely, have been received and perceived by us in the exact same way.
(Photo: Bunny Porter as "Fanny" and R.A. Vanasse as "Gardner" share in a dance in Tina Howe's "PAINTING CHURCHES" from Pilgrim Soul Productions in Whitinsville, MA. now playing through November 12, 2023. Photo Courtesy Pilgrim Soul Productions)
The show's pacing began a little sluggish at the 11-03 performance but the overall pacing improved by mid-way through the first act.
Also, at the same performance, Mags' hair needed a touch more dye for the criticism by her mother to have been a bit more impactful.
Otherwise, costumes and makeup were in tune with the early 80s time period, and the formalwear worn by Fanny and Gardner in the show's second act was elegant.
Director Jim Porter's staging expertly maximizes the full length of the Whitinsville stage space.
The single set for the production, courtesy of the combined efforts of Nancy Stevenson and Scott Taylor, is an excellent physical representation of the story's Beacon Hill couple who have stayed in the same location for so long, even the walls of their home have begun to reflect their fading relationship.
"PAINTING CHURCHES" continues in Whitinsville until November 12th and, if your taste leans toward absurdist dramas, then consider this play a post-Halloween treat.
Coming in March, 2024 to kick off the new season of Pilgrim Soul Productions will be the Tony Award-winning Brian Friel play, "DANCING AT LUGHNASA" which will be performed at Calliope Productions in Boylston, MA.
For more information, visit www.pilgrimsoulproductions.com
Approximately two hours with one intermission
Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)
ABOUT THE SHOW
Finalist 1984 Pulitzer Prize in Drama!
In Tina Howe's "PAINTING CHURCHES," Gardner and Fanny Church are preparing to move out of their Beacon Hill town house to their summer cottage on Cape Cod.
Tarner, once a famous poet, is now retired.
He slips in and out of senility as his wife Fanny valiantly tries to keep them both afloat.
They have asked their daughter, Mags, to come home and help them move.
Mags agrees, for she hopes as well to finally paint their portrait.
She is now on the verge of artistic celebrity herself and hopes, by painting her parents, to reconcile longstanding family conflicts.
"Beautifully written ... A theatrical family portrait that has the shimmer and depth of Renoir portraits." - The New York Times
"A radiant, loving, and zestfully humorous play ... distinctly Chekhovian. Howe captures the same edgy surface of false hilarity, the same utterable sadness beneath it, and the indomitable valor beneath both." - Time