BWW Review: SPT's Thoughtful GRAND CONCOURSE Crackles with Stunning Performances
It's always the quiet ones you have to look out for. That sentiment works well for people but in this case also for a certain theater, Seattle Public Theater. They don't put on the biggest, most well-known shows and they're not always in the foreground of people's thoughts for "must go" theater but maybe they should be. They've been fairly consistent this season in putting on edgy shows with which you may not be instantly familiar but once immersed in them what you get are some stunning performances, starting the season with their killer "On Clover Road" and leading up to their current offering "Grand Concourse". I'll admit to an unfamiliarity with the piece before going but now that I have I can do nothing but recommend catching it especially in order to catch four incredibly thoughtful and engaging performances.
Heidi Schreck's play is a slow burn of a drama as we meet Sister Shelley (Faith Bennett Russell), a nun with her hands full running a soup kitchen in the Bronx. With the help of a few volunteers and their maintenance man/security guard Oscar (Tyler Trerise) she manages to keep the men and women who come in, like the unstable jokester Frog (Corey McDaniel), on the right path even though her own faith is wavering. Enter Emma (Hannah Ruwe), a college dropout searching for a way to do good, who comes on to volunteer. But Emma's grand ideas and energy may be a bit too much for the soup kitchen to handle especially when certain secrets bubble to the surface.
Schreck's beautifully structured play with its crisp, natural dialog keeps its eventual reveals well-hidden just under the surface of what's going on until they emerge to smack you in the face. And director Annie Lareau plays with that pace and false sense of security well allowing for the reveals to do their job. Plus, she's assembled a top-notch cast who beautifully tackle this riveting script.
McDaniel tackles the smallest role in the piece with as much devotion as a lead and his 11th hour breakdown is truly awe inspiring. Trerise has the difficult task of taking what could be a prop of a character and turning it into someone flesh and blood and does it beautifully with a sincere and honest portrayal. This young actor has been in quite a few things in the past few years and never ceases to impress. Ruwe, who blew me away in a very small and quiet role in the aforementioned "On Clover Road", tackles the role of Emma with tons of heart and an air of longing making her sympathetic even in the face of some questionable actions. But it's Russell who blew me away with a thoughtful and subtle performance with so much depth and soul while saying very little. And that subtlety only makes her final moments all the more powerful.
Like I said, Seattle Public Theater keeps pulling out the stellar performances and it's time for us all to sit up and take notice. And so, with my three-letter rating system I give Seattle Public Theater's production of "Grand Concourse" a stellar YAY+. You want to make a point to catch this one.
"Grand Concourse" performs at Seattle Public Theater through June 11th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattlepublictheater.org.