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A Storefront Church Full of Doubt

Scott Lucas | December 2, 2013 | Story Reviews

"The holidays are pre-moistened now. But they are a moment for people to stop and to assess," says actor Carl Lumbly, who appears in SF Playhouse's production of Storefront Church. "That’s what this piece is asking, forcing, coercing us to do." The play is written by John Patrick Shanley, whose Doubt won the Tony and the Pulitzer before being turned into a film starring Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Storefront Church is a kind of thematic follow up to that piece.

Though both plays concern people struggling with—and against—their religion, Storefront Church switches out the Catholic school for a, well, storefront church in the Bronx. Though the scale is smaller, the stakes—rent, gentrification, and maybe even the state of the soul—are as high, especially when Lumbly squares off against Gabriel Marin, who plays the conflicted Bronx Borough President. Lumbly thinks that smallness has a virtue: "With a choir, multiple deacons, and a high profile ministry there is an attachment to power—almost a corporate identity. That this is a good group to have represent you to the deity. But I think in these smaller congregations, the storefront churches, we testify the human spirit to one another."

Storefront Church marks a "full circle" for Berkeley's Lumbly (known for television roles on Cagney and Lacey, Alias, and Justice League) who almost gave up acting after the death of his wife, Vonetta McGee, before last year's turn in the Playhouse's The Motherfucker with the Hat. "Sometimes you just have to wait," he says. "Sometimes it’s a lot of fun to play men in action, but there’s a truth in it that if you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything."

Storefront Church runs through January 11 at the San Francisco Playhouse.

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