“Painting Churches” as presented by The Adobe Theater is an abysmal experience once the paint has been stripped from its facade.
It’s difficult to know where to start. I suppose the best place is with the abhorrent characters and their petty lives.
There are only three characters: a famous, aged writer being overcome with dementia; his horrid, prattling socialite wife; and their adult New York artist daughter who comes home with an armload of pretension and unresolved childhood issues. The play is set in their grotesquely affluent family home in Beacon Hill, the site of the most extreme of Boston’s conspicuous consumption.
Although it is the father, Gardner Church (played by Ray Orley), who has the most obvious stint of mental illness, his wife, Fanny Church (played by Becky Mayo), is clearly overwrought with senilities and emotional instabilities that are all chiefly and “comically” ignored. She frets dully about their uncertainty in life, since they are shifting from a lifestyle that is disgustingly opulent to one that is slightly less opulent.
She has some redeeming moments when she turns the bitch level up to 11, drunkenly attacking her adult daughter’s dating life with cutting scrutiny laced with outdated and trenchant racism. Unfortunately it’s too little, too late. While this makes her more amusing, like a Jessica Walter character, it doesn’t make her any less vile.
It is the adult daughter, “Mags” Church, (played by Michelle Boehler), who is probably the most miserable and generally offensive to the senses. She enters the house to yap self-importantly about her New York life, but mostly it is a braindump — evidently, years and years of pent-up childhood pettiness, including but not limited to “you guys were, like, so totally mean to me when I would, like, play with my food during dinner or whatever.” Boehler’s lines are delivered in a droning, colorless monotone, accompanied by painfully awkward telegraphing.
To further the aggravation of monotony, in a clumsy and easily fixable manner, all of the actors fail to pick up their cues, leaving perpetual dying spaces of silence throughout these harrowing “dramatic” moments. Largely, Mags talks endlessly and no one actually listens, but it’s really hard to blame them. She blathers on and on, mostly to herself, about the terrible injustices she suffered so gallantly at the hands of her inane and thoughtless parents. With all their money, couldn’t they have paid attention to her more? All she has now is some utterly unfulfilling life as a Bohemian and successful New York artist.
White Person Problems.
It is impossible to give any amount of shit about these affluent, ignorant wretches and their cloistered bubbles of self-obsession. If anything, they’re all sick at some level with problems that are never addressed and are all cheerfully and lightheartedly ignored. And that’s where the supposed “comedy” comes in.
Is the play supposed to be funny? It’s honestly hard to tell. There are things that oddly resembled jokes, as if they had common ancestry with something like a punchline. Somehow the play is simultaneously cartoonish and drab. There are nigh-constant attempts at slapstick that all fail pathetically like dying farts. The attempts at humor can be grating, or else turn into moments that are just sad.
There doesn’t even seem to be space or energy to talk about the smaller details that all fall pathetically on their face about this production. Why does Fanny have a wig that looks like it’s made out of doll’s hair? Why are the set changes made at tortoise speed? Or why is the entire background of the set simply covered in shower curtains? Sure, the parents are moving. That’s part of “the plot.” But mostly, it just seems completely lazy.
Perhaps many of the individual problems are due to the play’s delayed opening of a week, about which the Adobe website mentioned something vaguely about a “death in the family.”
From the audience’s perspective, it’s impossible to say for sure. This play is often basely aggravating and offensive, and even a few more weeks of rehearsal wouldn’t have saved it from itself.
Graham Gentz is a play reviewer and columnist for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at email@example.com.
by Tina Howe*
directed by Brian Hansen
The Adobe Theater
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Runs through July 13
$15 general admission
$12 seniors and students
For more information, call 898-9222 or visit adobetheater.org