Painting Churches | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Painting Churches

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Painting Churches, Organic Theater Company. Tina Howe's play about a woman who returns home to paint her aging parents' portrait comes ready-made with problems, including lines like "Daddy's last Pulitzer hardly covered our expenses" and "Ezra Pound brought me these shoes from Italy." Howe's reliance on what David Mamet calls "And then my cat died" speeches ("When I was 15 you banned me from the table...and then I...and then you...") repeatedly brings matters to a grinding halt.

Director Ina Marlowe has also neglected to decide whether the play is about the strength of the mother (Mary Ann Thebus), the grievances of the daughter (Cynthia Judge), or their sublimated rivalry over the father (Tony Mockus). So though Thebus, reprising a role she played 15 years ago, captures every nuance of the choice to be goofy instead of grim in the face of her husband's encroaching senility, and though Mockus moves flawlessly in and out of lucidity, the piece just sits there. Marlowe captures the dynamic of three people in the same house and different worlds, but the rest of Howe's points are shrouded by listless direction and bizarre design. Costume designer Alex Wren Meadows ignores every textual clue, dressing the rebellious daughter in velvet and her patrician parent in Kmart mother-of-the-bride horrors. And to give Thebus time to switch clothes, scene changes are stretched out endlessly, turning languor into stasis.

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