The Dayporch takes a hilarious look at Southern Values and Empowerment – Threshold Repertory Theatre

By Mark A. Leon
By Mark A. Leon

Deep in the natural and majestic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountain range in North Carolina resides Ceille Baird Welch, a playwright, poet and counselor. With her collective body of work and experiences, Ceille has brought to life The Dayporch. Set in the countryside of South Carolina in the early 1980’s, this play follows the three residents of a retirement home and former asylum known simply as East Jesus, their nurse and a mysterious chaplain that comes into their lives.

The Dayporch is the Golden Girls meets Cary Grant with a mysterious, yet comedic Hitchcockian twist set to the values and themes of the South.

Each night, Rosie, Lula and Maggie sit on the day porch watching the sunset, counting the days until they will be invited to their eternal resting place. Still showing signs of life and vigor, they share memories through poems, songs and anecdotes; some true and some slightly embellished. With a bit of sensuality and naughtiness, the ladies hold on to the last connection to youth lost.

When Steve Grayson enters the picture, that all changes. As the three elderly women transform into little school girls wooing at the charms of Steve, the real mystery begins to unfold.

The stage director and set design were beautifully arranged by husband and wife team Clarence Felder and Chris Weatherhead bringing the charm of Southern courtesy and hospitality to life. With an inviting set that takes you to the countryside far away from the hustles of the city and five powerful performers that each bring a unique style to this rustic land, Chris and Clarence paint a picture of a simpler time; a simpler place.

During a poignant moment between Lula and Steve talking about moving to the White Columns, the plantation home of Lula, Steve references sitting on the porch drinking mint juleps. Lula promptly responds with “We don’t do mint juleps. That is just Yankee propaganda.” This sent whimsical eruption of laughter from the crowd, many recalling their memories of not too long ago and one of the many reminders of the culture clash between the North and South.

Paul O’Brien takes on the role of Steve Grayson, the charming stranger who sweeps the ladies of East Jesus with the bumbling charm and charisma of Cary Grant to Kathryn Hepburn or Clark Gable to Claudette Cobert. His easy spoken compliments and soft ear for listening brings a rebirth to Rosie, Lulu and Maggie giving them each a renewed sense of value and rekindled beauty.

Playwright Ceille Baird Welch and Producer Chris Weatherhead speaking about play
Playwright Ceille Baird Welch and Producer Chris Weatherhead speaking about play

Susan Lovell as Rosie is a powerful force on stage offering witty sarcasm, self-absorbed narcissistic behavior and subtle evidence of insecurity. Here cackling laugh and cough is a defining characteristic of her persona. With a na?ve sense of the modern world combined with her playful naughty thoughts, the complexity of this character and her ability to own her scenes made her a true scene stealer.

Margaret Nyland transformed the role of Lula into an aging Southern debutante. A traditionalist with soft skin, glowing blonde hair and a lifetime of memories of a time when life was simpler. Her attachment to the poetic vision of Edna St. Vincent Millay signals to the audience that her body may have aged, but her inner beauty remains.

Poetry plays a significant role in this production reminding us that it is a fixation from birth to death in chameleon appearances. As a newborn, we are brought into the musical spectrum with lullabies, as adult song and dance fill our minds and souls and in the twilight, the profound verse of poetry aides in our reflection of life. All forms of poetry, self-expression and emotional release. This point is brought out beautifully in The Dayporch.

Carolyn Heyward as Maggie takes on the challenging role of motherhood and disability. Being the mother figure with all the burdens of responsibility and fiscal conservatism was one filled nicely with her soundness and voice of reason. Here ability to mediate quarrels and nurture was comforting. Becoming so dependent on her walker and not having the motivation to walk without assistance was a symbolic foreshadow to that powerful ending and act of sisterhood.

The final key performance and the glue that keeps the characters locked as the mystery unfolds is the role of Nurse Sara Mefford played by Samantha Andrews. A quirky, yet responsible hopeless romantic trapped in the countryside away from civilization, men and romance. She is jaded by a past love, but optimistic that love could find a way once again. Her penetrating power combined with moments of vulnerability compliment the cast well.

There are many wonderful elements to take away from this production including friendship, companionship, value of life, Southern values, acceptance and trust. One principle that build a pronounced strength as the play progresses is empowerment. Four strangers find each other at East Jesus. Through unlikely means, they develop a bond with each passing sunset on the day porch. That friendship is tested and in the end, well you have to see.

The Dayporch – Ticket Information

The Dayporch set
The Dayporch set