Painting Churches

This is the title of a play I saw this afternoon at Procunier Hall in London.  It’s about the impact of Alzheimers on a family.  It’s also about longstanding emotional dysfunction and how there are no winners here (or are there?)

A reviewer sets the stage for us:

A last remnant of the old-money, socially elite WASP families that used to be Beacon Hill’s principal inhabitants, the Churches are an artistic clan.  Gardner Church is an aging poet, now going dotty, whose eminence is suggested by a library that includes gifts from Robert Frost and Andre Malraux.  His wife, Fanny, long used to running the household and serving as her husband’s real-world anchor, is easily recognizable as the type of upper-class woman whose own suppressed artistic instincts find fruition in her consciousness of clothes and furnishings.  Sharp-eyed and even sharper-tongued, Fanny also functions, with supportive intent, as a kind of critical nemesis to both her husband and their daughter, Mags, an aspiring painter, now living in New York, about to have her breakout solo show.

Mags has come come home to help her parents move out of their too expensive Boston townhouse, and into the cottage they own on Cape Cod.  She wants to paint them sitting together.

There is such sadness in this play.  Such a sense of loss in each of the three.  It’s far more than dementia.  It’s about how imperfect we all are.  We achieve something and then life seems to conspire to take away the satisfaction, to drop us down a bottomless pit for awhile.  Perhaps ending it all would be a good plan.

Through the tossings and turnings of relationship, though, a light shines.  There’s a recognition of who the other really is, even if that’s usually buried under a blanket of low self-esteem and woundedness.  There is a dance to this.  There is a tiny smile, as each person at least momentarily sees beyond the condemnations, the status, the fame, the need to have the other do what you want them to do.

As Gardner becomes more and more disoriented, as he grapples with his inability to write anymore, as he loses his awareness of the moment, he can still tell his daughter how beautiful she is.  He can dance with his wife.  He can quote the most memorable poems of Yeats, with a faraway look in his eyes.

Mags seems to have had a young life of “not good enough”.  Mom lets her know right between the eyes that her dyed hair is an abomination and that she’ll never get a man wearing clothes that look like discards.  What ills of the past still live in her mind?  They appear to be embedded in the walls of the home place.  She needs to paint her parents, and when they finally see the finished work, they smile, they comment on the stylistic beauty, they’re proud of her.  Mags’ eyes widen in wonder, hearing words that never flowed before from her mother’s lips.

Fanny is all knotted up.  She remembers the joys of courtship with Gard, how their lives flowed effortlessly as his fame and income surged.  The parties, the fancy clothes she could afford, the sense that their peers thought well of this well-appointed Beacon Hill couple. Why, or why, couldn’t their daughter see the wisdom of staying within the fold of tony society?  Perhaps a reprimand or thousand would have her see the error of her ways.  In the end, though, there is the painting Mags created, showing the sweet togetherness of decades.  There is the dance with her dear one, as wobbly as he is.  Gard and Fanny’s eyes meet in love.

***

I sit here now, thinking of a song written by Stan Rogers, telling of a ranch wife looking forward to Friday night, when she’ll be dancing with her man at the Legion.  It’s called Lies:

Then she shakes off the bitter web she wove
And turns to set the mirror, gently face down by the stove
She gathers up her apron in her hand
Pours a cup of coffee, drips Carnation from the can
And thinks ahead to Friday, ’cause Friday will be fine
She’ll look up in that weathered face that loves hers, line for line
To see that maiden shining in his eyes
And laugh at how her mirror tells her lies

Here’s to Gard and Fanny, to Mags, and to Friday evening dancers everywhere.

2 thoughts on “Painting Churches

  1. This sounds like a lot of people that I have known. Old age isn’t for the light of heart.
    I’m sure this play depicts this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s