Monthly Archive for: ‘January, 2014’

STOREFRONT CHURCH given a compelling staging at SF Playhouse

The Church holds its first service (Derek Fischer, Gabriel Marin*, Rod Gnapp*, Carl Lumbly*, Ray Reinhardt*, Gloria Weinstock*)

Storefront Church: Comedy by John Patrick Shanely.

 Given a compelling staging at SF Playhouse

The accolades heaped on John Patrick Shanely, one of America’s premiere playwrights, include, amongst many others for his prolific plays, are a Tony and Pulitzer Prize for Doubt and an Academy Award for Moon Struck. He therefore deserves to have a mediocre play occasionally trod the boards. Storefront Church is that play and it really does not deserve the tremendous production being given it at the singular SF Playhouse. One might wish that it was staged at their intimate former 99 seat venue.

The quality cast includes the best of local actors with the addition of nationally acclaimed Carl Lumbly who garnered applause for his role at SF Playhouse in Stephen Audly Gurgis’ The MotherF**ker with the Hat  and at the Magic in  Terminus.  From the Bay Area there are (alphabetically) Derek Fischer, Rod Gnapp, Gabriel Marin, Ray Reinhardt and Gloria Weinstock superbly directed by Joy Carlin on a fantastic set by the inventive Bill English depicting a Bronx two level row house with the storefront church on the first floor.

For this reviewer the problem is the play that seems artificial, with themes that offer no new insight and require pages of exposition to fill in the back stories of the ethnically diverse characters.

When the spectacular row house parts the revolving stage brings in the aging Ethan (a loveable, laughable Ray Reinhardt), who refers to himself as a “secular Jew” and is the vociferous husband of Puerto Rican Jessie (Gloria Weinstock). He is there to convince Reed (Rod Gnapp in one of his best performances) the bank loan officer to give her an extension on her mortgage that is many months overdue.  The taciturn Reed, who has a disfigured face and is blind in one eye, remains implacable. Through exposition later in the play the cause of Reed’s physical and psychological disfigurement is revealed and is critical to the uplifting ending.

Jessie seeks out and appeals for intervention from Donaldo (the always capable Gabriel Marin) the Bronx borough president and the son of her closest friend. Donaldo, who is working with the bank to build a super-sized mall that will bring in jobs to the Bronx at the expense of losing its ethnic character. He joins Ethan’s and Jessie’s fray with the bank when he learns that his mother has co-signed the second mortgage.

Jessie’s money problems have been amplified by her “renting” the ground floor store front to Chester (beautifully underplayed by Carl Lumbly) an impoverished, both financially and mentally, Pentecostal preacher whose church was destroyed in the Katrina hurricane. In the three months he has been there, he has not paid “rent” and the “upgrades” to the ‘church” were financed by Jessie’s second mortgage. In those three months, Chester who has “lost his way” because there is a figurative “big hole in front of me” is being supported with life’s daily needs by the enthralled Jessie.

Enter Donaldo to set matters straight with Chester and the interaction between Marin and Lumbly is dynamic even though lengthy exposition is written into the script to define the conflict within Donaldo being as real as that of Chester.

Pastor Chester ( Carl Lumbly*) and Burough President (Gabriel Marin*) have a fateful meeting over church vs. mortgage.


Finally, Shanley introduces Tom (a forceful Derek Fischer), a no nonsense bank C.E.O., to set up the dichotomy of materialistic and spiritual wealth.

With all the characters and the conflicts in place, the storefront church has its first “congregation” and the taciturn Reed (possible under the influence of alcohol)who has no formal religion  rebels against the materialistic world in general and Tom in particular. Gnapp delivers a wallop of a performance and even ends up singing the rousing hymn sung by the entire cast. The audience leaves with a joyous feeling since it is Christmas Time in actuality and in the play.

There is ample doubt that his play will replace Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory or Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Running time about 100 minutes including the 10 minute intermission.

Directed by Joy Carlin. San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post St, Second Floor, SF;  Tue-Thu, 7pm (Fri-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 3pm); Sun, 2pm. Through Jan 11, 2014. Sound Design Teddy Hulsker; Production Stage Manager Tatjana Genser; Lighting Design  David K.H. Elliott; Props Artisan Yusuke Soi; Costume Design Abra Berman; Set Design       Bill English; Prosthetics Paul Theren; Casting Lauren English.


Kedar K Adour, MD

Courtesy of





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