BWW Reviews: 68 Cent Crew Presents West Coast Premiere of STOREFRONT CHURCH
Twelve years ago, Ronnie Marmo, with nothing but 68 cents in his pocket and a dream of creating a positive, artistic, and supportive environment for actors, founded the 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company in Los Angeles. Since its inception, 68 has produced over fifty successful shows and festivals and has been lauded as one of the top 99 seat theatres in Los Angeles.
Now based at the smaller NoHo Arts Center, 68 Cent Crew is presenting the West Coast premiere of STOREFRONT CHURCH, the final installment of John Patrick Shanley's trilogy called Church and State, which began with the critically acclaimed DOUBT. The production is directed and produced by Ronnie Marmo, with an inventive set designed by Danny Cistone, and lighting design by Matt Richter. Featured in the cast are Aris Alvarado, Ed Dyer, Alan Ehrlich, Charles Hoyes, Johnnett Kent, and Steven Stanton.
The story concerns a Bronx Borough President who is forced, by the mortgage crisis, into a confrontation with the homeowner, bankers, and a local minister who has opened a storefront church on the first floor of the home in danger of going into foreclosure. Like many of Shanley's characters, each has an inner struggle going on and the questions they confront are ones that face us all. When do you give up doing what is good for you and do what is good for others?
The play opens with Ethan Goldkang (Alan Ehrlich) trying to reason with bank loaner officer Reed Van Druyten (Ed Dyer) to save his wife's home from being taken away due to her inability to make her mortgage payments. Ethan tries to sweeten the deal with one of his wife's daily homemade chocolate cakes, but we soon learn his motivation for consuming the delicacy is to end his life so his wife can collect his life insurance money which will allow her to pay off the mortgage.
Next up is Ethan's wife Jessie Cortez (Johnnett Kent) meeting with Donaldo Calderon (Aris Alvarado), her Bronx Borough President, asking for his assistance with the pending foreclosure on the home she has lived in for most of her life. Kent presents Jessie as a true local angel, a woman who bakes daily cakes to share with the neighborhood children. I remember there was such a woman on my block when I was a kid who always had fresh-made cookies ready when we stopped by to say hello on our way to or from school, even though she had no children of her own at home.
But Jessie's big heart has caused her financial woes in that she took out a second mortgage on her home to fund $30,000 worth of renovations to the first floor of her home into a storefront church, hoping it would generate income. But the renovations were never completed and no services have ever been held - and now her home is in jeopardy.
Aris Alvarado's well-dressed Donaldo walks a fine line between doing what is right for his community and appeasing the local bankers who can assist him in forwarding his political goals. The part requires running the gamut of human emotions and Alvarado is always on the mark, drawing us into his inner turmoil when confusion over local issues forces him to make tough decisions.
Bank CEO Tom Raiderberg (Charles Hoyes) represents the "devil" who focuses on money and not people, although he turns out to be a good-hearted one in the end. For even though he sees the need to upgrade the local Bronx neighborhood with a shopping mall, Donaldo manages to convince him to compromise on how the facility will be used to better serve the community. And in the process, Jessie's home may just be saved from foreclosure.
The final scene puts all the characters together in the makeshift storefront church during the first services held there by down-on-his-luck minister Chester Kimmich (Steven Stanton). When the spirit moves him, Ed Dyer is a marvel as Reed, presenting the guilt-ridden physically damaged loan officer with soul-wrenching honesty during his confrontation with his inner demons. The minister acknowledges that the common soul of man offers a safe haven, leading into the singing of the beautiful "I Shall Not Be Moved," a hopeful anthem encouraging us to take a stand and make a difference when we can.
STOREFRONT CHURCH has been extended for two more weeks through January 11, 2014 at NoHo Arts Center. Remaining performances are on Jan. 3, 4, 10 & 11, 2014 on Fri. & Sat. 8PM and Sun. 7PM.
All performances will be held at NoHo Arts Center, located at 11136 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood, CA 91601. Running time is 100 minutes with intermission.
$20.00 Advanced purchase.
$25.00 @ the door.
For reservations call: 323 960 5068 or reserve online at: www.theatre68.com or receive instant confirmation at www.plays411.com/storefrontchurch
For more information on the company or Theatre 68 productions, please visit their website: www.theatre68.com.