“He couldn’t understand how I could spend five hours cleaning the bathroom”, exclaims Pearl in director Philip North’s Patio/Porch. In this world of doilies, matching napkins, and white picket fences, we find four Texan women trapped by tradition. The double bill of Jack Heifner plays is set in a patio in 1984 and porch in 1956, but both stories reveal that underneath the women’s animated chatter is an empty housebound life.
In Patio two sisters share a drink and chat. Pearl follows Better Homes and Gardens magazine to a tee, but is left with a hollow existence. The warnings of consumer culture begin comically and slowly turn serious: “all I’m left with at the end of a bad marriage is all this furniture and this house”. In Porch a mother and daughter sit outside watching the world go by and chat. Dot is religious, but also finds something missing. Her hopes for her daughter don’t seem to resonate as her daughter threatens to leave: “I could walk across the street and marry old man Ferguson, that’s what you did”. There are exceptional performances by Jade Allen and Laura Rugg, and the musical interludes by the folk group Long Stride Lizzy are a nice touch. But Heifner’s women are shadows of Tennessee Williams’ women; they seem like the less ballsy cousins of Maggie Pollitt.
The Raven Theatre Company pride themselves on creating theatre from a feminine perspective. Here they show the problems caused by society reducing women to simply wives, mothers, and sisters, which does not seem far off from recent headlines. Even in the run up to a General Election male leaders are pitted against each other on their intellect, although their female partners are on their style. It does make one wonder how much attitudes have changed. A charming play mixed with tragedy and warmth.
Runs till 9 May.
To see or not to see: * * *