Lawrence Toppman

‘Grand Concourse:’ Are some things too terrible to forgive?

Emma (Callie Richards) and Shelley (Shawnna Pledger) are amused by the incorrigible Oscar (Nicholas Enrique Pardo) in “Grand Concourse.”
Emma (Callie Richards) and Shelley (Shawnna Pledger) are amused by the incorrigible Oscar (Nicholas Enrique Pardo) in “Grand Concourse.” Courtesy of Three Bone Theatre

The noun in the title of Heidi Schreck’s “Grand Concourse” has a triple meaning.

It refers to the boulevard in The Bronx that houses the Catholic soup kitchen in the play. It can indicate a gathering of people – in this case, the four who flow in and out of that kitchen, triggering a series of comic and occasionally unhappy events.

But “concourse” also means “an act or instance of coming together,” and that’s what the play is about: People who come together out of mutual need and go away with varying degrees of satisfaction.

Schreck’s main theme is forgiveness. Who deserves it? Must anyone but God always supply it? Are there things that can’t be forgiven? (The play suggests there are, and the instance described near the end seems to qualify.) Three Bone Theatre’s production, a local premiere, has a sharp little sting in its tail.

Each of the four people here has done something, or many things, for which they must atone. Shelley, the nun who makes soup every day (Shawnna Pledger), has been unable to sustain her faith – she can’t even finish a daily one-minute conversation with God – or reconcile with her distant father, as Christianity says she should.

Oscar, the handyman at the kitchen (Nicholas Enrique Pardo), claims to love the unseen Rosa but remains unfaithful. The homeless Frog (Bill Reilly) has the excuse of mental instability for his rages, paranoia and impulsive behavior, though he also fails to take medication that would help him.

And Emma (Callie Richards), a rainbow-haired 19-year-old who drops in to volunteer, commits more sins that I can relate without spoiling the play. She believes depression gives her license to act as she pleases, and her behavior becomes unconscionable.

Schreck isn’t clear about Shelley’s crisis. She joined the church at least 20 years ago to rebel against an atheistic mother, so we’re not sure how much she believed in God or her mission. Loss of faith isn’t a tragedy if the faith never ran deep.

Pledger plays her with a Bob Newhart stammer, as if even the act of getting out a complete sentence taxes Shelley’s will power. The character can be sympathetic and irritating at the same time; that’s true of all four, especially brain-fogged Frog. (Reilly does a good job of communicating eagerness to please and pathetic frailty.)

The show consists of short scenes and blackouts on Ryan Maloney’s detailed set, which looks just like a kitchen in a humble church. That structure can make the narrative seem choppy, and there’s no way for director Robin Tynes to fix that. She emphasizes the humorous bits, yet she isn’t afraid to let spiritual darkness creep in when it’s needed.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Grand Concourse’

When: Through Nov. 19 at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.

Where: Duke Energy Theater, Spirit Square, 345 N. College St.

Tickets: $22 in advance, $28 night of show.

Details: 704-372-1000; threebonetheatre.com.

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