- Kevin Thomas Garcia
“This country was built by giants,” one character says in Storefront Church. “They died, and midgets moved in.” The latest play from writer-director John Patrick Shanley, and the conclusion to his Church and State trilogy that began with Doubt, is about the smallness of great men and the greatness of small men, about the upside-downness of contemporary American society. It aims no less than to be the Hunchback of Notre Dame of this subprime mortgage-crisis era, a play thoroughly of its time. It may not be such a masterpiece, destined through its timeliness for timelessness, but it is a great play, full of rousing speechifying about the emptiness of wealth, knee-slapping humor, and poignant drama about the unbearable smallness of being, at least under capitalism.
Breaking Bad‘s Giancarlo Esposito plays the Bronx Borough President, called upon by an old family friend, Jessie (Tonya Pinkins), to intercede when the bank tries to foreclose on her home. “This is economic war!” she hollers. Jessie has been wiped out by a second mortgage she took out to help finance the construction of a small church on her first floor by the Reverend Chester Kimmich (Ron Cephas Jones, looking like Abe Lincoln), now suffering from a spiritual depression that leaves him unable to minister, and thus unable to pay his rent.
What follows is a series of meetings, set in offices at the bank or borough hall, or among the folding chairs of the Divine Plan for Salvation, where characters argue over myriad topics: state vs. church, action vs. inaction, business vs. human decency; about how the banks have become the new religions, exploiting ignorance for profit. Shanley’s focus may be scattered, but his message is about capitalism as a piss-poor guide for society, since moneymen are a pack of jackals led by their love of money rather than their love of man. “Money is a lie and a trap,” Chester preaches near the end. “Love is our safe haven from that which is brutal, from mindless activity and organized greed… It is a unanalyzable fact that when the many commit to caring for the few that all of us achieve nobility, and our lives meaning.” In convincing, moving language, the play asks us to be the better people we know we could and should be. It’s theater as sabbath sermon, writ and delivered by inspiring preachers, intensified by the renovated church in which it’s staged. See the Sunday matinee.
Atlantic Theater’s Storefront Church runs through June 24. More info here.