("Storefront Church" plays at San Francisco Playhouse from 11/30/13 through 01/11/14.)
"Storefront Church" is the third play in John Patrick Shanley's "Church and State" trilogy. "Doubt", the first play of the series, won Shanley a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize and went on to be made into a critically-acclaimed film starring Maggie Smith and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
"Storefront Church" lacks the intellectual heft of "Doubt" but it is a finely constructed play that deals effectively, if a bit predictably, with its themes of runaway capitalism, corrupt politicians, ambivalent preachers and redemption. In selecting to present this Bay Area premiere for the holiday season, SF Playhouse has chosen well.
"Storefront Church" has all the requisite elements of a classic holiday story: good folk threatened with eviction by a heartless banker, a well-meaning do-gooder whose soul is in peril, and a preacher plagued by doubts for his vocation. As must be in this tried-and-true formula, the banker is redeemed, the do-gooder makes the right choices in the end, the preacher reaffirms his faith and the good folk keep their happy home.
All of this is made quite wonderful by the vibrant professionalism of this SF Playhouse production. As is his wont, Bill English has designed a set that is astonishing in its perfectionist detail, and fellow designers Abra Berman (costumes) and David K. H. Elliott (lighting) also deliver.
Rod Gnapp is excellent in the challenging role of the bitter banker, disabled by a gunshot to the face from his ex-wife. His uptight confusion at having to attend a church service is both touching and comical. Gabriel Marin as politician Donaldo does a good job of conveying his confusion as he tries to further his career without compromising his principles. Carl Lumbly as the preacher, Chester, offers his usual top-notch professional work. Derek Fischer is creepy to the max as the senior officer of the bank, a slimy snake of a seducer whose comeuppance is a joy to behold.
The great treat of the production, though, is Ray Reinhardt, who is Bay Area acting royalty. Reinhardt is an unalloyed delight as Ethan, and Gloria Weinstock matches him beautifully as Ethan's wife, Jessie.
This production is a charming Christmas gift from this always-outstanding theatre. Go and be grateful.
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"Storefront Church" by John Patrick Shanley, produced by San Francisco Playhouse. Director: Joy Carlin. Set design: Bill English. Costume Design: Abra Berman. Lighting Design: David K. H. Elliott. Sound Design: Teddy Hulsker.
Tom: Derek Fischer. Reed: Rod Gnapp. Chester: Carl Lumbly. Donaldo: Gabriel Marin. Ethan: Ray Reinhardt. Gloria Weinstock: Jessie Cortez.
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.
Rating Guide: 5 stars=outstanding. 4 stars=highly recommended. 3 stars=recommended. 2 stars=watchable. 1 star=disappointing.
For a further explanation of the rating system, click here.