A regional premiere is always cause for celebration; it’s easier to produce a show with name recognition than it is to take a risk on introducing something new. Grand Concourse, by Heidi Schreck and directed by local theater dynamo Patrick White, takes that risk.
Shelley (Angelique Powell) is a nun with some serious religious misgivings who runs a Bronx soup kitchen with the help of Oscar (Armando Morales); Frog (Jack Fallon) is one of their regulars. Emma (Abbi Roy) comes to volunteer and injects some youthful energy and hope into the proceedings, changing the lives of those around her. Things aren’t exactly what they seem, however, and to say anything more would be to wade into serious spoiler territory.
Powell is an absolute delight to watch on stage. I’d not seen her work before, but had heard from many in the theater community how talented she is; the theater grapevine was not exaggerating. She can express emotion with the slightest facial expression or body movement; her joy is ours, and her heartbreak is ours, as well. I hope she’ll continue wowing us for years to come–White chose well when he cast her in this pivotal role.
Roy has a lot of growth to do as an actress; there are depths in Emma’s character that weren’t touched in the least. The show itself would have been more successful with a stronger actress in Emma’s role. Morales and Fallon were both strong in their roles–Fallon added a dose of levity that was appreciated, and Morales played a man trying hard to do the right thing well, with much heart.
Rich Montena’s set is both functional and beautiful–you’ll think you’re looking at a real soup kitchen. Food is actually prepared on this set. You’ll smell it in your seats. How often can you say that of theater? It’s one of the most realistic sets I’ve seen in a long time, and it immediately pulled me into the action.
The show itself is a bit of an enigma. It touches on some seriously important social issues–unemployment, mental illness, homelessness, hunger–and some broader issues as well, such as faith, forgiveness and giving back. It never feels preachy, which is very appreciated–plays about issues sometimes walk a fine line in that way. However, it never quite seemed to come together. There was never that moment where you realized the greater purpose, the why of the action. It seemed more like a workshop of a play than a finished work.
That said, is it worth seeing? You’re seeing a show that’s not been seen in the area before, with an electrifying lead performance; one that will make you think after you’ve left the theater. It’s a risk the theater thought was worth taking, and one worth you’ll find taking, as well.
(Albany Civic Theater is taking the show one step further and collecting non-perishable and canned goods at the theater for local soup kitchens, so think about bringing a donation of some sort when you go.)
Grand Concourse, by Heidi Schreck, Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave., Albany, through Feb. 19.
photo provided by Albany Civic Theater