Nobody who was involved or watching remembers the mortgage crisis with anything approaching delight or humor.Â It was a sad and bitter time, another deeply dark spot on the tapestry of the financial industry and a time weâ€™d all like to forget.
But it is a hallmark of rugged individuals that they can find something to believe in even during the most daunting crisis and that comes clear in "Storefront Church," the John Patrick Shanley play that opened at Windfall Theatre Friday night and runs through May 17.Â
Shanley, who won a Pulitzer Prize for "Doubt," takes on the whole financial mess and mixes it with an examination of personal ethics, politics, faith and religion. Then, he tosses in some of his funniest writing ever. Luckily, Windfall does justice to a work that has tremendous ambition.
The story starts in a bank office where Ethan Goldklang (Howard Goldstein) has come to plead with loan officer Reed Van Druyten (Jason Will). The bank is about to foreclose on the home owned by Goldklangâ€™s wife just because she is four months overdue in her payments.Â When Van Druyten says there is nothing he can do, Goldklang starts the moralizing blitz that is to follow.
"Court convenes in a manâ€™s soul, and nothing can stop it," Ethan shouts. "You will pay a price for this in the court of human truth, mister. You will wake up in pain for the things you do!"
Ethanâ€™s wife Jessie Cortez (Ericka Wade) goes to the Bronx borough president Donaldo Calderon (Shayne Seliga) for help. Calderon is involved with the bank on a development deal for the Bronx and is reluctant to get involved until he finds out his mother had co-signed the note. He pushes his ethics aside and heads to the bank to meet with the CEO Tom Reidenberg (Ben George).
Reidenberg forgives the entire loan, knowing he will curry favor with Donaldo for a $300 million mall to be built in the Bronx.
It all comes together in the storefront church run by Chester Kimmich (Bill Jackson). The Pentecostal minister has had a crisis of faith on his own, unable to hold services or even pray because of the "big black hole in my path, stopping me."
Jackson is a deep and brooding figure on stage. When he looks at Donaldo and says "the devil always looks like somebody else," itâ€™s clear that Shanley sees devils all over the place and heâ€™s going to expose them, one by one by one.
Under the direction of Carol Zippel, the cast, although uneven, carries the story along with ease. There are times when the play seems to lose a little fine focus as it rumbles from big issue to big issue. But for all that, itâ€™s a fairly easy play to watch.
Most of the humor belongs to Goldklang, the "secular Jew" who uses barbed wit to knock all the wealthy, the troubled and the the greedy off their mighty perches.
Goldstein is made for this role of an acerbic old Jew who has had a heart attack but canâ€™t lay off the chocolate cake since heâ€™s got a life insurance policy that would get his wife out of trouble.
At one moment, he learns that his doctor has died in his sleep.
"He kept telling me I was going to die," he says. "And then he dies. You know what I call that? I call that justice." His middle finger rises to the sky.
The other memorable humor comes from Will, who plays a loan officer who once lived the high life, until his wife found out he was messing around with a Russian supermodel.Â His wife shot him in the face, and the right side of his face is scarred and paralyzed, but no more so than his soul. Willâ€™s character is the flawed and poignant, moving from severe pathos to deadpan humor.
By the time all the characters gather in the church at the end of the play, the amusement comes from Will, who admits heâ€™s never been in church before because his parents didnâ€™t believe in religion.Â As he gazes about this unfamiliar territory he mumbles, almost to himself, "Iâ€™m glad my dad is dead. He wouldnâ€™t understand this."
Will, Jackson and Goldstein carry this play with unique and careful work. The same cannot be said of the rest of the cast.Â
The most egregious offender to the senses is Steliga, who is the borough president.Â Forget the fact that he looks about 20 years old and absolute nothing like a borough president in the Bronx might look and act.
For some inexplicable reason, he latched onto the decision that by shouting he will be able to show a wide range of emotions. For some time in the first act, I wondered if he thought he was in a 1,000 seat venue, instead of the intimate setting at the Village Church. There was virtually nothing convincing about his performance which demanded that the audience suspend all logic to get on board his train.
But even with those mild distractions, the production is a great finale to Windfallâ€™s 21st season.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Oct. 13, 2015
Soccer is called "the beautiful game" by the millions of fans who follow it like a religion, both in America and around the world.I've never understood the phrase until Saturday night when a remarkable confluence of events gave me a kind of clarity about soccer I never had before.
Published Oct. 10, 2015
Next weekend the respected Florentine Opera opens "Madama Butterfly," the last of Puccini's trio of great works, for a two performance run Oct. 16 and 18 in Uihlein Hall at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
Published Oct. 8, 2015
Back when I was a millennial, well before the millennium, dining out was not nearly the adventure it is now. There are so many more options now, so much food that is healthier, such a variety of cost points and so many different ethnic offerings that it sometimes makes it difficult to consider where you want to eat. But half a century ago, when I was but a callow youth, there were places where I was part of the devoted following. Here are nine of those places.
Published Oct. 7, 2015
This cozy spot offers a plethora of Indian dishes - from mild curry to red-hot pepper, curry and ginger flavored items.
Published Oct. 7, 2015
Thud! As hard as it may be to believe, that is the exact sound delivered by the stage musical version of "Dirty Dancing" that opened Tuesday night at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. If there was ever a stage adaptation of a movie that ought to just fly off the stage, this one sat there like a hopeless drunk trying to tap dance on a giant exercise ball.
Published Oct. 6, 2015
Recently, the Milwaukee Bucks extended the contract of General Manager John Hammond. The agreement keeps Hammond in his position with the Bucks through the 2016-17 season. I was wrong on this one. In July I had written that the Bucks were on the verge of appointing Coach Jason Kidd to be the head of basketball operations and either parting ways with Hammond or finding another position for him in the organization.
Published Oct. 4, 2015
Sometimes it takes a little tap on your noggin to get the point across and sometimes it takes a blow from a sledge hammer. The sledge hammer gets a total workout in "Back of the Throat," the over-the-top horror show running at Next Act's Third Ward theater.
Published Oct. 4, 2015
One of the worst things that can happen to anybody walking into a theater is to know all about the twists and turns and surprises that are in store. If you know, then it's not a surprise. Following my intense belief in not having the shout "spoiler alert" every time I see a play, I fully intend to say almost nothing about what happens in "Any Given Monday," an hilarious if slightly off-kilter comedy that opened over the weekend at In Tandem's Tenth Street Theatre.
Published Oct. 3, 2015
If at some point in your life you decide that you want to write your autobiography there are a couple of very important items to consider. One is that you can write. The other is that your life better have something interesting about it. Both of the requirements are met, gloriously, in "The Lion," the one man show that opened Friday night at the Stiemke Studio of the Milwaukee Rep.
Published Oct. 1, 2015
Over the last several months Dave Begel has seen a steady parade of fear mongers show up and convince a Common Council committee to turn down applications for a strip club in Downtown Milwaukee.