ALBANY — Do you like plays that don’t truly end when the lights fade to black and the curtain falls? You know the ones. They raise and wave a moral crisis flag or set off an ethics bomb to manipulate your emotions, forcing you to react with outrage or, conversely, to long for the warmth of your security blanket.
You leave the theater wounded perhaps, pumped with an energy that needs to be debated, discussed and released. Often when people hear about plays like this, they swerve to avoid their path. They push buttons for the audience — the anger button, the frustrate button, the discomfort button. Few, if any, manage to push the laughter button. But Heidi Schreck’s insightful — and dare I say it hopeful — play “Grand Concourse” packs a wallop of a wake-up call with well-executed comedy.
The vocation for Shelley (Angelique Powell), a plainclothes Sister of Social Service, is to prepare a daily meal for an ever-growing group of downtrodden clients in an inner city soup kitchen. But this calling is starting to take its toll.
Shelly’s daily affirmations of hope and faith are so fraught with doubt and uncertainty she has taken to using the timer on the microwave to force herself to pray for a full minute. But God has a way of answering, providing and testing the faithful.
An enthusiastic 19 year old college dropout named Emma (Abbi Roy) walks in one afternoon and wants to help make soup. A cautious Shelly accepts this gift and eventually she and the kitchen’s young and magnetic maintenance man Oscar (Armando Morales) and goofy but well-meaning transient Frog (Jack Fallon) welcome Emma into the fold. As Emma chops carrots, serves soup and counsels clients, Shelly begins to feel recharged and her doubt disappears. Of course, things are not always what they seem.
This is a very good play packed with some very uncomfortable truths. Schreck’s dialogue is funny, succinct and never lands false. Director Patrick White has done a grand job keeping the pace brisk and the focus keen. The assemblage of excellent actors doesn’t hurt either; all are first-rate. As is Rich Montena’s realistic and fantastic set and Jim Dick’s bright and appropriate lighting.
And the best surprise of the evening comes from the playwright herself. In a story that could very much land manipulative and preachy, Schreck has produced a gem of a self-reflection and examination that is fresh and unencumbered by cliché. Shelly’s final moments of revelation and peace may shake people of faith with a gasp of incredulity, yet there will be others in the audience ready and willing to convert to Shelly’s new way to live.
Long after you drive home from the theater you will be thinking, wondering and debating if it’s the right choice, a smart choice or the only true choice.
WHERE: Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave., Albany
WHEN: Through Feb. 19
HOW MUCH: $18
MORE INFO: 462-1297 or www.albanycivictheater.org