‘Grand Concourse’ does well to intersect faith and identity in TheatreLAB’s ever-evolving The Basement
TheatreLAB’s The Basement was transformed into a Bronx soup kitchen for its Acts of Faith Festival entry Grand Concourse by Heidi Schreck.
TheatreLAB is known for high quality, provocative performances and Grand Concourse doesn’t disappoint.
But part of the fun of seeing a show at The Basement is also anticipating just how the space will be transformed. Grand Concourse, once again, did not disappoint. The space became a working soup kitchen complete with church staples of Jesus and OSHA safety-precaution posters.
The annual festival, sponsored by Second Presbyterian Church of Richmond is “America’s largest faith inspired theatre event” and has become a staple of provocative theatre exploring issues of faith and identity. Local professional theaters are invited to cross “religious and cultural lines . . . for ecumenical conversations about faith and theatre.”
Grand Concourse is a perfect selection for the beloved festival. The understated, unassuming play questions universal themes of love and loss, faith and forgiveness, good and evil.
Beautifully and seamlessly directed by the lovely Chelsea Burke, the ensemble cast of four elevates a fairly simple script into something profoundly moving and funny with uniformly exceptional performances.
Shelley (Dawn Westbrook) is an energetic, high strung nun who is having trouble communicating with God. She sets the timer on the kitchen microwave to force herself to pray, sometimes even for just a minute at a time. And the prayers are perfunctory and rote. She proclaims “justice for immigrants” when what she really prays for is her father to die to free her from guilt and obligation.
Shelley runs the soup kitchen with an iron hand and jaded heart.
She is joined by Oscar (Joshua Gutierrez) the church’s maintenance man and a mainstay in Shelley’s soup kitchen operation. Oscar is lovable and enthusiastic if sometimes misguided. But his heart is in the right place. In Shelley he finds a kind of mother figure and a confidante who helps steer him in the right direction.
Frog (David Clark) is a regular in the soup kitchen line and finds excuses to insinuate himself into the daily activity in the kitchen. As the play progresses, the audience is privy to his descent into the grips of mental illness – conspiracy theories and paranoia abound – and we glimpse the hardened Shelley’s unconditional love and compassion for “the least of God’s children.”
The trio is disarmed by Emma (Katie Ellis), a 19-year-old college dropout whose eagerness to volunteer masks a volatile, manipulative personality that will test the patience and faith of the crew. Emma is a con woman who wreaks havoc and drives the others to question their faith in humanity.
Beautiful performances brought tears and laughter to a packed and appreciative audience.
Grand Concourse runs through February 18. Tickets can be purchased by visiting TheatreLABrva.org.
Photos via Tom Topinka/TheaterLAB
Julie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is working on her first novel - Two Tickets to Freedom - a semi-autobiographical queer coming-of-age tale. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
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