“Painting Churches” kicks off Geneseo’s theater year

This week, Geneseo's department of theatre and dance will present a staged reading of Tina Howe's hilarious yet touching play, "Painting Churches."

The play focuses on aging couple Fanny and Gardner Church and their daughter Mags, a professor at Pratt Institute and almost-famous portrait painter. Mags visits her parents to help pack up her childhood home so her family can move to a more secluded and affordable house in Cape Cod, Mass.

Her ulterior motive for returning after a year spent away, however, is to finally capture her parents in portrait. During this transitional period, many suppressed emotions are released, but the family members are eventually able to come to a mutual acceptance that is gratifying for the audience as well as the characters.

For those who have never had the chance to experience a staged reading before, it might seem a bit strange. Rather than memorizing their lines completely, actors carry scripts on stage and read from them throughout the performance.

In this reading, there is also a narrator who opens each scene with a description of what the setting is meant to look like. The stage itself, however, is barren aside from a few small set pieces and props. A window created by stage lights dominates the back wall. This minimalism allows the audience to focus its attention mainly on the author's intended meaning and language while using their imaginations to fill in the missing elements.

Besides the untraditional performance, this production of "Painting Churches" is also unique because of its cast. It stars experienced, adult actors from the Geneseo area.

Milne librarian Tracy L. Paradis plays the emotional character of Mags with conviction and strength. Maryanne Arena, director of Fine and Performing Arts at Genesee Community College in Batavia, is hilarious and vivacious as the slipper-wearing, hat enthusiast Fanny.

James Graves, a retired union advocate for the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers from Rochester, carefully balances playfulness and solemnity as the senile Gardner.

Sophomore Kimberly Olsen plays the narrator. "It was a real treat every night to see people who are professionals," she said. As a theatre major, she was able to learn about "projection, diction and movement" from working with the experienced actors.

Director Randy Kaplan chose to direct this show because it "came along at the right point in [her] life." Her daughter is immigrating to Israel soon, she said, so she is experiencing a similar transitional period to that portrayed in the show. The play is made all the more moving by its director's personal experience.

The last opportunity to see "Painting Churches" is Thursday Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. in Brodie's Black Box Theatre. Tickets are available in the Brodie Box Office for $3.