Through April 1st
Reviewed by Bobby Franklin
The SpeakEasy production of Grand Concourse by Heidi Schreck now playing at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston’s South End is one of those truly wonderful theatre experiences that touches on so many emotions.
There are four characters in this play that takes place in the food preparation area of a soup kitchen in the Bronx. As the play progresses the depth and struggles of each of these individuals becomes more apparent. It is impossible to watch this work and not become emotionally invested in each one of them.
Shelly, played by Melinda Lopez, is the Catholic nun who runs the kitchen. She is committed to her work but is having doubts about her faith and purpose. She practices praying while using a microwave timer. Shelly is a kind and compassionate human being, but is that enough and what does it mean to be compassionate? Melinda Lopez brings depth and warmth to Shelly. I felt I had known her for years.
One day Emma, a college drop out, stops by and offers to volunteer. At first she seems like a young person who wants to do something good, but as the play progresses we see there is much more going on with her. Played by the very talented Ally Dawson, Emma is very manipulative and makes things quite difficult for the others. She also accomplishes much good while pushing the others to the limits of their compassion. Ms Dawson handles this very complex character perfectly. It is an emotional roller coaster watching her, and I have to say I felt drained by her actions. However, it me feel good in the sense that I was forced to look more deeply into someone whom it would have been very easy to write off as superficial and self absorbed.
Thomas Derrah plays Frog a homeless man who has been a regular at the soup kitchen for some time. In between telling and selling jokes to the others, he also spins his philosophy on life and insights into people and society. I have seen Mr. Derrah perform for more years than I would like to admit, and I have to say it would be a challenge to find an actor who can match him for how consistently good he is. He certainly does not disappoint here. He makes many entrances and exits in the course of this production and each one is fresh and outstanding.
Oscar, played by Alejandro Simoes, is the maintenance man. He is funny and kind. Oscar was a dental student in his native Dominican Republic and is now struggling to put a life together in the United States and marry his girlfriend Rosa. At first he appears to be a fairly light character, but Mr. Simoes treats us to a man who has weaknesses and conflict but is filled with decency. He truly touches us with his goodness.
Grand Concourse easily could have been a very predictable and formulaic work about people helping people and getting caught up with the conflicts in their own lives. At first I thought that’s where it was going. What author Heidi Schreck has given us is a play that goes much deeper than that. I was very moved by this play. It compelled me to ask what it means to have compassion and what the limits are to it. The Catholic social activist Dorothy Day once said her purpose was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Well, it’s not always easy to tell who is afflicted and who is comfortable.
I have to admit I left the theatre emotionally spent. It was an amazing afternoon watching terrific actors working with a fine script that was well directed and staged beautifully. I highly recommend Grand Concourse. The SpeakEasy Stage has done it again and this is a play not to be missed. You will be deeply moved by what you see.
Directed by Bridget Kathleen O’Leary
Through April 1st
The SpeakEasy Stage
At The Calderwood Pavillon
South End, Boston