Highly Recommended **** Try to imagine being in a soup kitchen, a church run operation in a poor, but not out, neighborhood, working with volunteers with one goal in mind- making it through today, so you can do it all again, tomorrow! That is pretty much what Heidi Schreck’s play, “Grand Concourse” is about. This is a small cast play that deals with four personalities that are as far apart as they can be, but at the same time, they all share one emotion, Fear. Each has a fear that while different, brings them a bit closer during this time period that in the play is months, but for our purposes, around 90 minutes with no intermission.
There are many scenes in this story that is told in an elegant, style thanks to the gutsy direction by Yasen Peyankov, who uses the stage at the Steppenwolf Theatre to perfection -it is of great import not to have an intermission, in order to retain the flow. Joey Wade’s set is one terrific kitchen, filled with just about everything one might truly find in a soup kitchen adjoining a church. Amazingly there is no props person listed in the program, but if you know anything about restaurants or cafeterias. there is every type of pot and pan, knife and ladle, plate and spoon- not one item was overlooked, including lots of actual sandwiches being made and eaten as well as an egg breakfast that made me hungry. The lighting (Scott Zielinski) and costumes (Natasha Dukich) along with the sound and original music by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen all add to the beautiful picture that Peyankov paints for us.
But to be honest, it is the script and the four actors that make this tense, often funny tale reach into our hearts and souls. Shelly (Mariann Mayberry) is a nun who runs the soup kitchen in this busy Bronx, New York soup kitchen. We learn that her father is ill and being prepared for Hospice and that she may be having her own doubts about her own beliefs. She runs this kitchen for the church and is gratified when Emma, (s strong performance by the very leggy Brittany Uomoleale) a college drop-out, shows up to do volunteer work. She is a hard working, driven youngster who brings each of the other characters to a new level. Oscar (deftly handled by Victor Almanzar) is the handy-man who finds himself involved in the life of young Emma, but not in a way that he wants. The other character in this story is Frog (a very animated performance by Tim Hoppe, who will be replaced by the very able Francis Guinan on 8/11) Frog tends to represent the good that can come from evil that takes place in this story.
The emotions in this production are varied. We feel the love between our four characters. They, in fact, become an extended family that grows closer and closer as the story unveils. I certainly do not want to spoil some of the surprises that are in this story, ones that will make you think, which is why there is a discussion after the play ends. But while the story is filled with love, affection, caring , humor and fear, it is the element of surprise that you will think about on the ride home. The longer the drive, the more likely the stronger your desire to want it to end differently.
As they become a family, they begin to change, often caring about the others in a way that no one has ever done before. Just like a real family, every day is different and mistakes happen that make the closeness of the family dissolve. Can those who betray each other forgive each other for the transgressions they have endured? Can faith itself allow one to forgive another? This is the intriguing part of the work that Schreck has created. You will see that even faith and forgiveness can reach a point of no return.
“Grand Concourse” will continue at Steppenwolf Theatre, located at 1650 N. Halsted Street, through August 30th with performances as follows:
Wednesdays 7:30 p.m.
starting 8/12 2 p.m. shows as well
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays 3 and 7:30 p.m.*
8/23 afternoon at 1:30(TT) and 3 p.m.(AD)
8/30 no evening performance
To order tickets call the box office at 312-335-1650 or online at www.steppenwolf.org
Tickets range from $20-$89
There are some special events- Thursday, 7/16 at 5:30 p.m. EXPLORE and play a little Bingo at 758 West North Avenue game begins at 6 p.m. snacks will be served. (how can you play Bingo without snacks?) The explore program is FREE, but reservations are required 312-335-1650
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Grand Concourse”