Review: Painting Churches
Keen Company adds new layers of dust to Tina Howe's artsy family drama.
Wed Mar 7 2012
Photograph: Carol Rosegg
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>1/5
Time has not been kind to Gardner Church (Cunningham), an elderly Boston poet who is losing more of his faculties every day, or to his longtime wife, Fanny (Chalfant), whose role in his world is increasingly custodial. And time has been unkinder still to the play they are stuck in: Tina Howe's Painting Churches, a 1984 Pulitzer Prize finalist that has been revived to disenchanting effect by Carl Forsman for his Keen Company. From the groan of a title—the Churches' daughter, Mags (an inadequate Turnbull), is an artist who wants to paint their portraits—to the creak of the exposition and the continuous whine of Mags's dialogue, Howe's play is a compendium of unpleasant noises, amplified in a plodding production.
Howe treats the recognition that older people are human beings as if it were a breakthrough, and nearly every aspect of her depiction of Brahmin life seems phony. (A Beacon Hill townhouse has rarely looked shabbier than in Beowulf Boritt's gray-edged, wall-free set.) Through force of patrician dignity, Chalfant rescues a few moments of quiet for herself in the second act before the risible finale of cutesy hysteria. Mostly, though, the evening is one yawn after the last, alternating tiresome chatter about silverware and breeding with self-piteous family-therapy confrontations. I would say that Painting Churches is where clichs go to die, but that would suggest some drama at least. Painting Churches is where clichs go to rot.