A glimpse at the Peter’s Alley Theatre website suggests that small, emotionally-loaded relationship plays are the company’s specialty: To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, Proof… incidentally both, like this show, set on the porch of a house. But hey, everyone has to have a niche, right? This production of Porch by Jeffrey Sweet–a funny, charming, and heartfelt little play–demonstrates the company’s aptitude with this type of work, and is worth checking out at this year’s Fringe.
In the grand history of family dramas, this begins with a reunion.
Amy (played by Anna Fagan), a hard-boiled New York editor, returns to her midwestern hometown to see her father (Elliott Bales) through an operation. They haven’t seen each other in over a decade. As he prepares for surgery, he’s desperate to know his legacy will continue if he doesn’t make it. And he’s invited her high school sweetheart (Sean Coe), a wide-eyed puppy of a man who still harbors feelings for Amy, to come over. As one might expect, there are many loaded pauses, many tense expressions.
As things escalate, we see the loss that propelled Amy to New York and the clash that dissolved her family. We see Amy and her father at turns throwing barbs at each other and attempting, in their own ways, to heal old wounds. After all—they may not have much in common, they may not get along, but they’re the only two left.
The year is 1985, though that informs little apart from a line about a floppy disc. And yes, it’s all a little familiar: I’d never seen this play, yet felt I’d seen many like it—intimate family dramas with secrets to unearth. The structure comes as no surprise, but still the banter is witty and laugh-worthy.
by Jeffrey Sweet
at Gallery – Goethe Institut
812 7th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Details and tickets
It joins many others in its league as a drama rife with humorous moments, a realistic portrait of the hard and the ridiculous conversations juxtaposed. No, it doesn’t feel unique. But as part of Fringe, with so many others pushing their theatrical envelopes to infinity and beyond, familiar feels… refreshing.
The performances are top-notch. Fagan, believably icy and evasive in her portrayal of Amy at the top of the show, demonstrates the breadth of her emotional range when she reveals to Sam what her brother’s death has done to her. As Sam, Coe is sweetly earnest. And Bales, as the father, finds the heart and wit inside a scared, embittered man.
It’s not experimental, it’s not revelatory. There be no dragons here, no reinvention of genre. But Porch serves as a reminder of what Fringe does best: Stripped-down productions showcasing remarkable performances. Don’t mistake this play for small and unassuming. It may not be new or novel, but it’s a quiet powerhouse.