A Warm, Funny Evening on ‘The Porch’


(Paul Lyden photo)Sentimental comedy about seniors at Stoneham Theatre

It doesn’t hurt that playwright/director Jack Neary’s sentimental comedy about senior citizens is set in a working-class eastern Massachusetts neighborhood and features five characters who, to those who grew up in this area, will be as familiar as their own neighbors. But “The Porch” is also a very funny play that draws you into the lives of these characters and makes you care about what happens to them next, thanks in large part to top-notch performances from all five actors in the Stoneham Theatre cast.

There’s caustic and cynical Gert (played by Sheriden Thomas), whose irreverent comments often make her friends Marjorie and Alma cringe. Marjorie (Cheryl McMahon) has just a touch of Edith Bunker battiness in her. And Alma (Ellen Colton) isn’t so much dense as sheltered, and needs to have things like Bill Clinton’s favorite activity with Monica Lewinsky explained to her.

Leo, (John Davin) is married to Gert. He likes Foxwoods, but hates those bus trips with all the old people. Leo’s neighbor and Marjorie’s husband, Pat (Richard Snee), is like your favorite uncle – easy going and philosophical, taking life as it comes with deadpan humor.

Various combinations of these five characters discuss everything from Bill Clinton’s affair to whose music they want played at their funerals (top choices: Mitch Miller, Jerry Vale and Herb Alpert). “The Porch” has – and this is no knock – all the best entertainment elements of the most creative situation comedies. It is, after all, a comedy about various situations that these characters have encountered over the years.

All the action takes place on the front porch of Alma’s house as she gets ready for her Labor Day extended family party. Her neighbors are lending a hand because it’s the first year since Alma’s husband died five years ago that she has revived this annual party for her children and many grandchildren.

Talented set designer/scenic artist Jenna McFarland Lord has created such a realistic and authentic representation of a New England bungalow that you’d swear they built an entire house right on stage. No detail seems to have been missed, from the doorbell to the drain spout to the trash barrel and basketball hoop in the yard.

“The Porch” is a comedy, but it does have its sentimental moments. It’s a story of friendship among five friends and neighbors who enjoy each other’s company at the same time as they drive each other crazy.

When Leo tries to sneak out of the cookout early, Gert tells her husband that he isn’t going anywhere.

“Since when do you make my decisions for me?” Leo challenges his wife.

“Since July 23, 1962,” she retorts.

Audiences attending a performance of “The Porch” can expect to be told a good story and to laugh a lot, while spending an evening in familiar surroundings with characters they recognize and identify with. They are survivors who thrive on a combination of humor, faith and compassion, despite their sometimes gruff exteriors.

“The Porch” is a play that will appeal to just about everyone, including people who normally wouldn’t go to the theater. You can even safely drag your husband or father to this play, and count on the fact that he’ll leave with a smile on his face.

“The Porch” runs through June 1, at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street, Stoneham. For show times and tickets, go online at stonehamtheatre.org or phone 781-279-2200.

[The Porch, by Jack Neary. Set Design, Jenna McFarland Lord. Costume Design, Seth Bodie. Lighting Design, David Wilson. Production Stage Manager, Sarah Hilary Johnson. Production Manager, Dave Brown. Sound Design, Jamie Whoolery.]

This review originally appeared in the May 21, 2008 Wakefield Daily Item.

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