Heidi Schreck’s GRAND CONCOURSE (playing @ SpeakEasy Stage through April 1st) makes you think of Grand Central Station but it’s actually a soup kitchen where lost souls in transit can hear a kind word, enjoy a hearty bowl of soup and move on—to the next shelter or their next crisis. It’s also a mecca where some come to find solace, even redemption through the act of volunteering.
The kitchen is run by a take charge nun (Melinda Lopez in a solid performance) who is having a crisis of faith herself, wondering if one bowl of sustenance can really make a difference to the needy people she serves. Sometimes, to her surprise, a volunteer (Ally Dawson in an intense performance) may need more help than the homeless.
Director Bridget Kathleen O’Leary’s lovely, lyrical production is full of sweet humor, from the cheeky young caretaker/handyman (Alejandro Simoes at his most charming) who isn’t sure he’s ready to marry his sweetheart just yet—and from Thomas Derrah in a tour de force as a delightful, down-on-his-luck, bi-polar regular who, despite being forbidden to, sneaks in to the church at night to sleep in the sanctuary.
These four characters collide, with extremely serious consequences that, curiously, don’t develop dramatically until the very end of the play, leaving us to wonder what will happen to these desperate people. We can only guess… which makes the piece a series of painterly vignettes not unlike Elmer Rice’s slice-of-life STREET SCENE.
Forgiveness is a theme, as is sacrifice, as is the church itself, whose (metaphorical) cracked, damaged stained glass windows tower over Jenna McFarland Lord’s spiffy, spacious kitchen. I left the play, reminded of the fact that most downtown historical (Protestant) churches allow the homeless to sleep in their outside entryways but not inside their buildings. (This is because they’re afraid of the damage strangers might wreak on the plumbing and religious artifacts they hold so dear. Really? Could they not employ a caretaker to watch over a few beds in their basements?)
I left with other questions, too, about what forgiveness is, for example: what it can and can’t do. Schreck sure knows how to get an audience thinking.