A New Play by John Patrick Shanley

My wife and I had the pleasure of seeing a preview performance of John Patrick Shanley's new play Storefront Church on Sunday. Written and directed by the playwright whose work has already earned him  a Tony, an Oscar, and a Pulitzer (among other awards), this is the conclusion to his ambitious "Church and State" trilogy that  began with Doubt and continued with Defiance. Full of humor and drama, it is a fine example of Shanley's continuing mastery of theatrical storytelling.

One of Shanley's greatest strengths is his ability to give us some exceptional characters. Even in his lesser works (such as the movie Joe vs. the Volcano) he manages to deliver some memorable men and women in his stories, whether on stage or screen. Storefront Church has some of the best roles that he has penned and they are brought to life by a terrific cast.  Giancarlo Esposito brings an impressive range of emotions and tons of energy to the part of Donaldo Calderon, a Borough President who tries to balance the line between serving the people of the Bronx and pursuing his own political ambition. He tries to maintain his ethics as he navigates through the pothole-marked roads of modern life, at the same time being a pragmatist, a cynic, and a dreamer, leaving the audience to wonder which facet of that complex persona will win out in the end.

The supporting cast is topnotch -- Bob Dishy as the hilarious Ethan Goldklang, an older gentleman with a weak but giant heart trying to help his wife Jesse Cortez (portrayed nicely by Tonya Pinkins) save her home from foreclosure. Ron Cephas Jones is excellent as the troubled reverend Chester Kimmich, whose spiritual turmoil after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina drove him to New York to start a new congregation only to be shackled by self-doubt. Jordan Lage earns high praise by being the likable villain of the play, bank president Tom Raidenberg.

The nicest surprise and the standout performance of the story comes from Zach Grenier as loan officer Reed Van Druyten. Shanley is a master of dialogue as well as monologues, but he also manages to give characters like Reed some profound moments, both heartbreaking and heartlifting, through an economy of words.  There are even two scenes without any words at all (except for the lyrics of the songs being played) that are perfect in their execution and placement in the progression of the plot. The audience learns so much about both Reed and later Donaldo in those scenes. We see more of their internal struggles than any words could ever convey.

Storefront Church is produced by the Atlantic Theater Company in the beautiful Linda Gross Theater. See it and spread the word. It's a play worth seeing and talking about.