Capital Fringe 2014 Review: ‘Porch’

(Best of the Capital Fringe)

What a pleasure to happen upon this gem of a show. Featuring three exceptionally truthful and touching performances on a plain platform with next-to-no production values and working with an exceptional score, Porch plays like the sort of unembellished, deeply felt chamber music that even as its emotional undertones crescendo makes anything orchestral seem overstated and overmuch. Just the perfect piece for Fringe, as Producer and Director Aly B. Ettman must have supposed.


This wonderful one-act by Jeffrey Sweet—set in 1985 in late summer on the front porch of house in the Midwest—premiered in New York in 1978. In 1984 when the play was staged there again, The New York Times remarked on its authenticity and sense of “small- town restlessness and dreaming, the outward touches of hick combined with underlying shrewdness, and the feeling that the daily rhythms of the past have quiet values that cannot be matched by modern big city life.”

New Yorker Amy Herbert, a thirty-something single career woman (played with pitch-perfect toughness/tenderness by Anna Fagan), has flown home to be with her widowed father, who is about to undergo major surgery that he may not survive. As they talk back and forth on that front porch, their estrangement is palpable. He mocks the honorific “Ms.” He makes insesitive cracks about her serial and fleeting love affairs with men, how they “pass like kidney stones.” She swallows that and other resentments.  She tries to be pleasant.

Ernest Herbert (played by Elliott Bales with equally pitch-perfect gruff love for his daughter), owns a stationery store in town—and this being 1985, his wares include typewriter ribbons. His only son and Amy’s only sibling died some years ago, so he expresses his hopes that if he doesn’t make it, Amy will move back and take over the business. She makes clear that she would sell it and the house too. He’s stung by this.

The third character arrives, Sam Davison. In high school Sam and Amy were boyfriend and girlfriend. He’s a photographer who takes pictures of graduating seniors for the yearbook, and he’s divorced with a child. He brings Amy a photograph he took of her from the time they were close. He evidently hopes Amy and he could rekindle what they had (and given the soulful admiration and respect for her in Sean Coe’s sensitive performance in the role, that romantic outcome is one we might hope for too).

I disclose not a word about the ending. Except I was not dry-eyed.

The minimalist production included a subtle lighting design by Peter Caress, which lent a late afternoon and evening ambiance, and lovely incidental music by Bob Chaves, which seemed emotionally attuned to every scene in which it played. But always the focus was these three beautifully rendered characters and the tremulous sounds their heart strings made as duets and a phenomenally talented trio.

Running Time: 55 minutes, with no intermission.

Porch plays through July 27, 2014, at Goethe Institut—Gallery-812 7th Street NW (at I Street), in Washington, DC. For performance information and to purchase tickets, go to their Capital Fringe page.

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John Stoltenberg
John Stoltenberg is executive editor of DC Theater Arts. He writes both reviews and his Magic Time! column, which he named after that magical moment between life and art just before a show begins. In it, he explores how art makes sense of life—and vice versa—as he reflects on meanings that matter in the theater he sees. Decades ago, in college, John began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile, his own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then John’s life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction essays, articles, and books and had a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg. Member, American Theatre Critics Association.


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