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Short Take: A Bread Factory

(Patrick Wang, USA, In the Family LLC, Opened on October 26)

A cash-strapped community theater director summons a lovelorn young man onstage, and as he faces an empty house (and a bleak future), knowingly assures him, “Things look different from here.” Moments later, he’s dispensing a tentative but truthful reading of Euripides’ Hecuba, finding a creative outlet for his pain and attesting to the need for spaces where art can flourish without commercial hooks. In Patrick Wang’s deceptively tranquil, flawlessly acted, formally subversive A Bread Factory, a converted bakery that’s brought performances to a small hamlet in upstate New York for 40 years now clings precariously to public funding.

In passages heartbreakingly familiar to anyone who’s had to panhandle to bureaucrats who misguidedly conflate progress with sensation, elderly founders and life partners Dorothea (Tyne Daly, impassioned and idealistic) and Greta (Elisabeth Henry, conciliatory and serene) beseech town council members not to divert their subsidy to some tacky new performance artists. Wang’s generous four-hour runtime (broken into two halves) finds room for loving, faintly Guffman-esque character sketches (a local actor and critic have feuded for 50 years over a bad review); testimonials to the power of mentorship for preserving continuity; and a most daring gambit in part two in which performance spills over into everyday life as banal encounters take the form of tap routines and choral interludes.

Art infuses all things always, and as Greta proclaims in the film’s nested thesis and cri de coeur, “Being a good friend to artists is very important work.”

Steven Mears received his MA in film from Columbia University, where he wrote a thesis on depictions of old age in American cinema.