BWW Review: GRAND CONCOURSE forgives at Main Street Theater
GRAND CONCOURSE is one of those productions where you realize everything can be perfectly crafted in a show, but at the core the script will make or break it every time. The actors are amazing, the set is handsomely appointed, and the lighting design is creative and well executed. It fascinates for a while. But once the finale fizzles from a lapse in logic, GRAND CONCOURSE proves to be an exercise in dramatic frustration. The playwright's work never rises to the level of the cast or the commitment they have given to their characters.
In the show Shelley (Callina Situka) is a nun who runs a soup kitchen out of a Bronx church basement. She seems short on faith, and has taken to timing her prayers via a microwave hoping to reach 5 minutes some day. Along comes a girl named Emma (Morgan Starr) who asks to be a volunteer because she has left college and is dealing with cancer. She's a free spirit who never plays by the rules, but the staff and clients like her. Oscar (Herman Gambhir) is one of the guys who works there that takes as shine to her. Rounding out the cast is Frog (Rutherford Cravens), who is a homeless veteran who tries to sell everyone corny jokes he's come up with for a quarter.
The playwright Heidi Schreck stated in an interview with Playwrights Horizon "Everyone's motives for helping or needing help are different, and they sometimes can create intense situations." This is what GRAND CONCOURSE seeks to explore by design, but there are never intense payoffs once the wheels of the plot are set into motion. The girl's motives come into question when we learn she is not entirely honest, but the rest of the characters still seem to trust her without question. It frustrates the audience to see where this leads, and worse even becomes boring somewhere along the way. The final turn by the nun and where she arrives is meant to be shocking revelation, but it seems too simple to have based an hour and forty minutes without intermission on.
Luckily for Main Street Theater the audiences may not care about the holes in the script because the acting is superb. Callina Situka grounds Shelley in a way that overcomes problems later on, and she wisely tempers her performance with grace and humor throughout. She's a striking figure with a mesmerizing voice. Herman Gambhir matches Situka's earthy ease and grace note for note. He overcomes stereotypes to create a man who is more complicated than what is on paper. Morgan Starr gets the hardest role in the play with the fuzziest motivations, and somehow she makes sense of it all. Her Bronx accent is a bit thin, but otherwise I believed everything she said even when the script indicated perhaps her character did not. Rutherford Cravens hams it up as Frog, and he brings a light tone that is much needed in his delivery. He's fun and you love him no matter how bad the jokes are.
The design work at Main Street always excels. The church basement kitchen set from Torsten Louis feels authentic with running water and chrome cutting spaces. Vegetables are chopped here with precision, and amazingly the scenic changes are carried out as accurately and expediently as the soup prep by two stagehands who become characters by the end. Fluorescent lights dangle down, and mood with space are expertly orchestrated in Eric Marsh's light design. Deborah Anderson contributes a sensible clothing plot for everybody.
Director Rachel Dickson guides a sturdy passionate cast through a script that never quite delivers on its initial promise to examine forgiveness and trust. Maybe we can forgive the text and simply admire the commitment of the cast and crew who provide work that far exceeds what their words ultimately say. GRAND CONCOURSE is powerful enough at times to convince you it could be a great satisfying five course drama, but by the end you realize it is merely a soupy mix of platitudes and stumbles in grace.
GRAND CONCOURSE is playing at the Main Street Theater Rice Village location through April 30th. Reservations can be made by calling (713) 524-6706 or by visiting the website at www.MainStreetTheater.com