Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Back Porch"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

| MARQUEE | USHER | SEATS | INTERMISSION | CURTAIN |



"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


Reviews of Current Productions


note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark


"Back Porch"

by Michelle Sylvester
Directed by Libby Marcus

Scenic Design by Julie Roy
Lighting Design by Rich Brenner
Costume Design by Michelle Macadeag
Hair & Makeup Design by Danielle Vintschger

Tea (Odelia Antoinette) Richardson..........Chantal DeGroat
Monique.................................................Karimah Moreland
Elizabeth Richardson...................................Gwen Goodwin
Bernice Richardson...................................Sandra Sandiford
Trina Richardson.........................................Channing Jones
Joshua "Pa Jo" Daniels..................................Michael Nurse


Michelle Sylvester's award-winning young play "Back Porch" contains enough ideas for a whole career of writing plays. Her strengths and her weaknesses are those of a young writer beginning to explore a wide range of durably interesting characters.

The "Back Porch" in question here is in Tampa, Florida, and it's the home of three generations of Black women. There's Grandmother Bernice --- still attracting men over her bingo-cards at 68 --- and Mother Elizabeth, toting a frown of smoldering resentment. Neither ever married, though "Pa Joe" Daniels has been trying for over forty years to make Bernice an honest woman, and acting as both Grandpa and Father-surrogate to young Odelia Antoinette ("Tea") Richardson, the youngest flowering of this family.

Tea has enough problems for a whole gaggle of plays. She's a 25-year-old poet finishing her first book, with a feminist press eager for the final drafts. She's also a proudly declared (and accepted) lesbian shyly committing herself for life to Monique, whom she's known since they were high school cheerleaders together. She's working at home because some weird wiring of her brain or her spinal-cord causes her hands or shoulders or sometimes her legs to go numb or to collapse. And, by play's end, there's an even more immense problem she needs to face.

One problem she doesn't need to face is love. As she explains, as much to remind herself as to tell anyone else, this family with all its faults made her what she is by their constant, accepting, unquestioned love both of herself and one another --- a love that's not merely stated, but proven, as much by banter and criticisms as by hugs and kisses. (This is a burstingly live character that anyone would hope is the playwright's self-portrait.)

Each one of Sylvester's characters deserves an entire play of her own, and "Back Porch" is too narrow to give them all room to breathe. There's Aunt Trina, for instance --- a New York psychiatrist home for Christmas, but rarely is she anything here but an interrupted pedant.

The fact is, however, that all these people come thick with subtext and background, and director Libby Marcus and the cast enjoyed bringing them to life. There is so much love onstage it spills over into the audience. Perhaps it has something to do with everyone getting a chance to display positive images of themselves. And Michelle Sylvester, who admits she has been writing all her life, obviously has a long life of writing ahead of her.

Love,
===Anon.

"Back Porch" (till 25 April)
1998 PLAYWRIGHTS' FESTIVAL COMPETIION
Loft Theatre, 69 Brimmer Street, BOSTON
1(617)824-8000

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

| MARQUEE | USHER | SEATS | INTERMISSION | CURTAIN |