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A Clever and Touching Production of John Patrick Shanley's Storefront Church

Also see Jeanie's review of The Snow Queen and Richard's review of Tristan & Yseult


Carl Lumbly and Gabriel Marin
San Francisco Playhouse is presenting John Patrick Shanley's Storefront Church for its holiday entertainment. This is the last part of a trilogy by the playwright that started with Doubt, which deals with religion, and Defiance, which deals with race and religion in the military. This last part of the trilogy mixes church and state in another aspect.

Storefront Church is set in 2009 Bronx. Jessica and Ethan are about to lose their duplex to the bank since they are $30,000 in arrears of a second mortgage loan that was used to refashion a storefront church for minister Chester Kimmich. He had a church in New Orleans that was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina and he has now moved to the Bronx. He has no motivation to preach again. Jessica and Ethan must appeal to persons in power in hopes of finding some Christmas humanity. Unfortunately, the three power players have no yuletide spirit since they are carrying a lot of baggage.

Donaldo is the borough president. His father was a minister and his deeply religious mother worked herself to death to support her husband's ministry. Needless to say, he has lost his religious spirit. Even though he has known Jessica all his life he is unsympathetic to the plight of his friend. However, when Jessica drops the fact that his mother co-signed the loan he has no recourse but to help her out.

Reed, a rigid loan officer, becomes involved and is also heartless to the couple. He is carrying a lot of baggage since his wife shot him in the face, causing a major disfigurement, and he lost of all his money in the 2009 crash. He is dubious about religion since his father was an atheist. The CEO of the bank, Tom, has no real feelings for the couple either, since he is now pushing for a $300 million neighborhood development for the district. He needs the president of the borough, Donaldo, to come aboard so he offers to forgive the loan, providing Donaldo comes in on a deal (in the opening scene we see the CEO munching on a gingerbread house).

Joy Carlin has assembled a superb cast, especially for the last scene, which takes place in the church storefront when all of the characters get together. She gets striking, flawless performances from them all. Gabriela Marin gives a beautiful performance as the now anti-religious Donaldo. Carl Lumbly gives an impressive, serious portrayal of the minister Chester. Rod Gnapp is amazing conveying the facial disfigurement of Reed. It's an astounding performance.

Gloria Weinstock gives a genuine portrayal of the wife Jessica while Ray Reinhardt is wonderfully acidic as the fervent Ethan. Rounding out the cast is Derek Fischer as CEO Tom, pitch-perfect in the role.

Bill English's sets are excellent with a street front of the building sliding open to expose various scenes including the nearly empty church.

Storefront Church plays through January 11th at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, second floor of the Kensington Park Hotel between Powell and Mason, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-677-9596 or www.sfplayhouse.org. Coming up next is Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem opening on January 21 and running thru March 8, 2014.


Photo: Jessica Palopoli


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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