Liam Craig, Jenny Woodward and Pilar Witherspoon in “Saint Dad” at Portland Stage. Photo by James Hadley/courtesy of Portland Stage

Would you prefer to have an abstract painting or the head of a moose hanging above the fireplace in your newly renovated lakeside cottage? That’s one of the more graphic questions raised in Portland writer Monica Wood’s warm and funny new play, with the hint of an edge, now showing at Portland Stage.

The impact of economic change drives much of the action in “Saint Dad” as a well-to-do real estate buyer “from away” comes face to face with local skeptics whose memories and values appear to be in the process of being boarded over by condescending snobs who don’t even employ local artisans to do the work. The set design by Anita Stewart establishes a beautiful, but not yet lived-in place you might like to visit when comfort is more important than rustic charm.

Directed by Sally Wood (no relation to the playwright), the play sets it all up when the adult children of the camp’s former owner ask the new owner to pretend to be a renter until they can break it to their father, who’s just recovering from a stroke, that they took the opportunity presented by his absence and a booming real estate market to sell the place for big bucks. The titular dad never appears in the play but figures ominously in the dynamics of the action going forward.

Consideration of shared family values may eventually smooth over some of the social conflicts highlighted (with female characters, more than saintly patriarchs, taking the lead). Along the way, though, the audience is taken on both a laugh-filled and sensitively told journey into a new Maine.

Jenny Woodward, Liam Craig and Moira Driscoll play the siblings who carry with them varying degrees of hope in convincing the new owner, played by Pilar Witherspoon, of the value of their scheme to temporarily fool their widowed father.

Woodward is a live wire in the early going as she tries to apply her character’s erudition as an English professor to make the case. She and Emily Upton, who comes on the scene a little later as the divorced new owner’s aspiring-author daughter, add much energy to the proceedings while the older characters wittily grumble. Literary and theological allusions color the younger women’s scenes.


Craig is a hoot as his periodically laid-off paper worker adds dry observations and snippy asides throughout. Local stage veteran Driscoll portrays one who has been around long enough to catch the drift of what’s happening and yet remain mostly calm.

Witherspoon’s harried executive seeks rest and relaxation but likes to “control the narrative,” as her daughter claims, and is initially not sure of what to do as her new place is invaded by these colorful provincials. Speaking of which, Patrick O’Brien adds some late laughs as a rough-hewn sage.

Revelations and steps toward redemption figure in the more serious second act when the actors flesh out their character’s histories, weaknesses and strengths.

Promoted as a late-blooming creation by Wood (whose works include the play “Papermaker” and memoir “When We Were the Kennedys”), “Saint Dad” might still benefit from a few minor edits. But this engaging new play is certainly ready to be enjoyed and contemplated now in its world premiere run.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.