"Painting Churches" at the Indianapolis Repertory Theatre is award-winning playwright Tina Howe’s tender, funny and touching study of parents and children, of aging and acceptance.
The Churches are upper class, educated Bostonians. The father, Gardner Church, is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. Fanny Church, the mother, is a traditional housewife, albeit on a rather dignified scale. Their rebel daughter, Margaret Church, is an up and coming Soho artist…an old style portrait painter…so out that she is in.
Gardner Church is having severe problems with his failing memory and the rebellion of his aging body. Wife Fanny, aging herself, is very supportive, but occasionally overwhelmed. Daughter Margaret, Mags as they call her, has come home to help them with a move to smaller quarters and to paint their portrait. Mags is a successful painter. But she’s a woman in her late thirties, still seeking her father and mother’s approval of her as an artist and a person. This is much the same setup as in "On Golden Pond," but "Painting Churches" is more intimate, funnier and closer to truth.
The IRT’s Artistic Director Janet Allen is responsible for the neatly blocked and shaped production on the thrust upper stage. One of the comedy keys of "Painting Churches" is just how self-involved father, mother and daughter can be. Despite the fact that there are only three characters, sometimes a dozen sentences may be going on about the stage at the same time. It’s sometimes almost a farce. In one scene Fanny Church is struggling with a zipper and the conversation among the three continues unabated though Fanny is totally concealed with the dress up over her head. In another Gardner Church is retrieving garments by putting them on from the pile that Fanny has prepared to discard. Eventually, Gardner wearing several coats, a sweater and a dozen ties complains that it’s getting awfully warm in the room.
Jon Farris was delightful as the addle headed poet father. Laura Whyte handled the full range of the mother Fanny Church’s alternating love and frustration with both her husband and her daughter. Although she looked too young to be the Church’s daughter, Jenny McNight, was thoroughly believable in the role of a person who wants approval from the family that she has rebelled against.
Tina Howe’s thought provoking family comedy," Painting Churches," plays at the Indianapolis Repertory Theatre through May 1st.