Wednesday, February 3, 1988
The Michigan Daily
By Lynn Gettleman
We've seen this story before, but
it still hits home.
So goes the plot of Tina Howe's
1983 drama, Painting Churches,
currently being performed at the Ann
Arbor Civic Theatre. A family re-
solves life-long disharmony after the
daughter returns home with the sur-
face motive of helping her aging
parents move from Boston to the
country, and with the inner motive
of finally winning her parents' ac-
'ceptance and approval.
The play is directed by Carolyn
Caldwell, a recent recepient of a
Ph.D. from the University's theatre
department. It is the story of a suc-
cessful New York artist - Margaret
Church (University Alumnae Susan
Morseth) - who returns home to
find her famous author father (Robin
Barlow) deteriorating with age, and
her socialite mother (Susan H. Mor-
ris) still bombarding her with criti-
cism and guilt. As tired as Margaret
is of her mother's constant criticism
of her dress, her work, and her
lifestyle, she finds that she is still
desperately in need of her parents'
approval. By getting her parents to
finally agree to allow her to paint
their portrait, Margaret makes her
last effort to win their acceptance.
The intimate setting of the Ann
Arbor Civic Theatre immediately
involves the audience in this light-
hearted drama, which is as moving
as it is funny. Together the three
characters of the play work through
the unresolved issues of Margaret's
childhood and the contemporary is-
sues of her father's deterioration in
order to reach a final understanding
and acceptance of each another.
College students can certainly re-
late to Margaret's struggle to win
her parents' approval and understand
how important it is to Margaret to
have her parents accept her as an
adult. Students are also likely to
discover that, like Margaret, they too
have a fear of returning home to dis-
cover that their parents are actually
However, while students can em-
pathize with the main themes of the
play, they will have trouble believ-
ing that it was written as recently as
1983. Painting Churches is ex-
tremely reminiscent of On Golden
Pond (you expect at any given mo-
ment for Fanny Church to call her
husband an "old poop") or a typical
Arthur Miller drama. One would
think that audiences would have
grown tired by now of seeing ver-
sion after version of confrontations
between the members of the typical
"screwed-up American family." Ap-
parently they have not.
Luckily for this particular
production, performances by Barlow
and Morris add a unique flair to this
common theme. These two actors
work particularly well together, cre-
ating between them some hilarious
scenes. One such moment occurs
when the duo, after deciding to pose
for their daughter, begin to imitate
r ^'. - ?. ' .'.mot
Robin Barlow, an Economics professor at the University, makes the
most of the sometimes clichkd lines of 'Painting Churches.'
E A00 f
famous works like Michelangelo's
Pieta and scenes from the ceiling of
the Sistine Chapel. Barlow's per-
formance alone is well worth seeing.
He is convincing as the aging au-
thor, making up for some of the trite
dialogue forced on him by the script.
Painting Churches is at times a
bit exaggerated, with statements that
tend to slap you in the face instead
of allowing subtle recognition. This
is more the fault of the playwright
than the actors. Great performances
by Barlow and Morris overcome
these small problems, making this
particular production -of Painting
Churches very enjoyable and well
PAINTING CHURCHES will be
performed at The Ann Arbor Civic
Theatre, February 4-6, and 11-13, at
8 p.m. Tickets are $S.
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