Banyan Theater Company opens season with 'Painting Churches' in Sarasota

mclear@bradenton.comJune 27, 2013 

Over the past thee decades, Tina Howe's drama "Painting Churches" has become a popular choice for theater companies around the country. It's a quiet play that can be very powerful. Its explorations of family of communication resonate with audiences, and its subtlety appeals to actors and directors.

"Painting Churches" is the first show of Banyan Theater Company's summer season. It opens Thursday at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts in Sarasota.

Howe also wrote "Coastal Disturbances" and "Pride's Crossing," both of which are critically praised, award-winning plays. But "Painting Churches" is probably her most acclaimed and certainly most produced work. It was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and won the outer Critics Circle Award for best Off-Broadway play.

It's about an aging couple named Fanny and Gardner Church -- played in the Banyan production by real-life spouses Jenny Aldrich and Don Walker -- who are packing to move from their long-time home in Boston's Beacon Hill area. Their daughter Margaret (Olivia Williamson) shows up to help them move. Her father is Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who is starting to show signs of dementia; Margaret is an up-and-coming painter and wants to paint her parent's portrait.

The time they spend together gives the family an opportunity to explore their past.

Some critics have noted that the construction is akin to an oil painting, with delicate brush strokes quietly building into something powerful.

"It's not your typical construction," Aldrich said. "You peel away layers."

At the heart of Howe's play are the barriers to communication, even among people as close as a family.

"They think they're having the same conversation," Walker said, "but they're not."

Aldrich and Walker are familiar to the local theater audiences. They often perform together -- so often that they even maintain a website about their work called costars.net -- and in March they performed in "84 Charing Cross Road" at the Selby Library and they often appeared separately and together at the old Golden Apple Dinner Theatre. Walker was also in "Drawer Boy" and "Becky's New Car" at Banyan and was the jury foreman in "12 Angry Men" at Asolo Rep. Aldrich frequently tours around the country in her one-woman shows about Mary Cassatt, Georgia O'Keeffe and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Details: June 27-July 14, Jane B. Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Show times: 8 p.m. June 27-29, July 2, 5-6 and 10-13; and 2 p.m. June 29-30, July 4, 6-7, 13-14. Tickets: $28.50. Information: 941-351-2808, www.banyantheatercompany.com.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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