A line delivered by Frog, a homeless man, encapsulates the dilemma of Heidi Shreck’s play, Grand Concourse. Speaking in a soup kitchen filled with raw vegetables for chopping, he tells the security guard Oscar eating lunch with him that vegetables have feelings too. Frog offers a choice: to either become a predator or starve: “At some point, you’re going to have to come to terms with being a murderer.”
Prologue Theatre’s debut production confronts the idea that sometimes, in order to live the life you want, you must hurt other living beings. Each character must decide whether to do good unto others, to be selfish, or to serve others for selfish reasons.
closes February 17, 2019
Details and tickets
In JD Madsen’s incredibly true-to-life set rendering of a Bronx soup kitchen, (the industrial kitchen set sits in the middle of the Marriott ballroom) a community collides. In one room with four doors, four people from different walks of life face personal choices: Will the habitless nun Shelley, who runs the soup kitchen, keep her faith? Will rainbow-haired, college dropout Emma become a better person? Will joke-selling Frog improve his circumstances? And will flirtatious Oscar marry his girlfriend?
Grand Concourse is no place for escapism. What you will find in this often-dark play is a raw depiction of life as it truly is: messy and filled with people who are impossible to label as fully good or bad.
The humanity of this production plays out through behaviors—hurting, helping, cooking, joking, berating, pranking, judging, betraying, and eating—all of which suck you into the microcosm. Through absorbing and frequently funny conversations, the audience becomes invested in each character.
Tim German’s training as an improv comedian lights up the character of Oscar, a bilingual Dominican-American man doubling as both security and handyman for the soup kitchen. Every time he bursts through a door, gangly limbs and big personality filling up the space, the audience smiles in anticipation for what banter he will elevate next.
The true star of this show is Zach Brewster-Geisz. As the homeless man who frequently raids the fridge between mealtimes (“I’m a snacker”), Frog is the heart of the play. His growling voice and erratic gait hide a tenderness for chivalry. Brewster-Geisz balances the comedy and tragedy of Frog’s existence, delivering huge laughs through jokes that no one but Frog understands, while also embodying the ravaging effects of his mental illness.
The production’s smallest moments are its most beautiful: hearing Shelley set a microwave timer for her prayers; watching Frog practice a telephone call on a potato; seeing Oscar’s face fall when he realizes that his alternative to a sandwich is another sandwich. There is a kind of meditation in watching actors dice real eggplants and zucchinis on steel kitchen tables and watching them wash their hands in industrial sinks. As a great testament to the play and the production, we never get bored of the kitchen as a hub for life: it makes you ponder how many times a day you open the kitchen fridge in your own home, looking for food to satisfy hunger, sadness, or boredom. The soup kitchen also becomes a catalyst: it draws each character to fulfill a highly personal need, but not everyone will find what they seek.
One theme running through this play is self-consciousness. It shows up when Emma applies lip plumper, asking Oscar to assess it; it crowds the kitchen when Frog buys flowers for Emma, and Oscar frets about looking empty-handed; and it surfaces in Shelley’s memories of the grandmother she loved most, because “She was crazy about me and she was dead so she couldn’t change her mind.” The obsession with external assessments binds these characters together as a core need driving their choices. This focus on personal appearances contrasts well with each scene change; in an intriguing choice, the lights only dim halfway during each transition, making the audience privy to characters’ covert actions when they think no one is watching.
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Unfortunately, the lighting and sound design leave something to be desired. Although the audience gets some clues about the time of day from the temperature of light through a window, it’s not easy to tell sunrise from sunset, or dawn from dusk. Similarly, although highway noises and church clocks inform a general sense of the soup kitchen’s location, the timing of audio cues sometimes confuse more than clarify.
Disappointing, too, are some aspects of the text. With the exception of Shelley’s struggle with forgiveness and faith, most of the story arcs feel underwhelming. The stakes for Oscar’s personal life are too low, Frog’s future path ends less clearly than it begins, and Emma’s motivations for disruptive actions feel underdeveloped. It’s hard to pinpoint a climax in the play, so it ends more because the plot has spent its inertia.
Nonetheless, the draw of the production is its familiarity: the kitchen could be anywhere, and you can see yourself in any character. In the end, Grand Concourse accomplishes what Prologue Theatre sets out to do in choosing it for the company’s debut: through community talkbacks, and the option to donate non-perishable food items at the ticket counter for the Arlington Food Assistance Center, the production provokes you to consider the consequences of your actions or inactions on other people, and seek out your closest food bank. Grand Concourse puts on no airs, inviting you in as you are. No matter what you need when you walk through the door, communing with this new local theatre will nourish you.
Grand Concourse by Heidi Schreck . Directed by Jason Tamborini . Set Design by JD Madsen . Lighting Design by Ian Claar . Sound Design by Niusha Nawab . Costume Design by Sydney Moore . Casting Director Noah Schaefer . Stage Manager Tori Ujczo . Produced by Prologue Theatre . Reviewed by Kate Colwell.
A very thought provoking play. Made us think about how much of life is not black or white or right or wrong. The cast did an outstanding job and the play is worth seeing. I would see again.