“Painting Churches” is an abysmal experience.
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 disgustingly opulent.
She has some redeeming moments when she turns the Bitch Level up to 11, drunkenly harassing her adult daughter’s dating life with cutting scrutiny lashed with outdated and trenchant racism.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 with 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.
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
I was horrified to read Graham Gentz’s review of the play “Painting Churches,” which appeared in the June 30 – July 6, 2014 Lobo.
The reader is stricken with the terrible dilemma of deciding which is more offensive: the poor quality of Gentz’s writing or his racist and misogynistic remarks. In describing a leading character: “She has some redeeming moments when she turns the bitch level up to 11 …”
Later, a paragraph composed entirely of these three words: “White Person Problems.” No further explanation given.
I suppose if the reader has to ask, we are presumed too ignorant to be worthy of any clear thinking on the topic.
If these ugly, inchoate remarks aren’t enough to convince the reader that Gentz is not just a feeble writer unable to articulate a point, but a complete clod, here you go: “It is impossible to give any amount of shit about these affluent, ignorant wretches …”
And finally, “… attempts at slapstick that all fail … like dying farts.” When a flailing writer resorts to profanity and pubescent nonsense while struggling to make a point, an editor, his mother, someone needs to step in. It’s just bad writing.
HOW DOES A DYING FART FAIL?
All of this leads me to these more troubling questions, Dear LOBO: What are your journalistic standards? Are works edited before publication? If so, for what?
Is it okay for your featured ‘columnist,’ indeed any of your writers, to refer to women as bitches? Should public works such as this play that appears at the Adobe Theatre, or any work for that matter, be treated with respect regardless of their artistic merit?
What does it say about our paper, the Daily Lobo, when the ‘culture columnist’ can’t write and tries to express himself by using four-letter words?
These are big questions concerning the integrity and quality of your paper. In terms of the writing itself, it is so woefully inadequate it would not be fair to call it a review.
Indeed, there is no man to better sum it up than Mr. Gentz himself as he concludes his sloppy rant: “… basely aggravating and offensive, and even a few more weeks of rehearsal wouldn’t have saved it from itself.”
Daily Lobo reader