Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 7, 2017

Painting Churches

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through April 2, 2017
by Mary Fernandez-Sierra

“The question he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.”
-Robert Frost, The Oven Bird

Tina Howe’s “Painting Churches,” a play about the relationship of an aging poet, his distracted wife and up-and-coming artist daughter, is performing now with grace and style at The Majestic Theater in West Springfield.

Director Rand Foerster has created a lovely, authentic portrait of the diminishment which growing old brings, and the powerful effect the decline has on family. Foerster has kept the tone of this show light, though the subject is rather sad; there is far more joy than sorrow in the Majestic’s fine production.

Ellen Colton’s comic timing and facial expressions as Fanny Church, the long-suffering and somewhat savage wife, lay waste an audience. She is especially superb in the interplay with her failing husband, alternately berating and cherishing him. Some actors can get you to smile through your tears; this one makes you laugh.

Anderson Matthews is equally amazing in his role as Gardner Church, the fading poet. His performance never stoops to caricature or sentimentality, though his character gets a little foolish at times. Gardner’s dignity always shines through; and one of the highlights of this production is hearing Matthews recite serious poetry, especially Yeats.

As Margaret, the artist daughter of this remarkable pair, Eve Passeltiner is engaging, passionate and completely believable. She portrays the next generation of gifts in her waning family with sincerity and conviction, and is a pleasure to behold onstage.

More kudos: Dawn McKay’s costumes are both lovely to look at and cleverly designed. They move beautifully to suit the actors’ actions, and complement the story being told (Fanny’s hats are incredible).

Set designer Greg Trochlil has built a gorgeous set complete with architectural details of a fancy townhouse in Boston, on walls that don’t exist. Sound Designer Justin Letellier plays elegant piano waltzes as the backstage crew make complicated scene changes. Meanwhile, Lighting Designers Matt Cowan and Amber Tanudjaja create lighting suggestive of a child’s crayon drawing over the entire set…and lovely effects throughout the rest of the show, too.

Majestic Theater’s “Painting Churches” has the makings of a masterpiece. Go see it for yourself!