Love grows up
Gulf View Drive
Sacramento, CA 95814
The B Street Theatre’s noteworthy summer-long project—the three-play Nibroc series by playwright Arlene Hutton—wraps up with Gulf View Drive. What began as a charming love story in the Last Train to Nibroc (about two strangers meeting on a train in the 1940s) has now become a busy, multilayered family saga with this final installment, set in the 1950s.
Hutton might as well have titled this play Crowded House. Having matured into their 30s, husband Raleigh (now a successful writer of novels for boys) and wife May (still teaching high-school English) have relocated from rural Kentucky to Florida’s Gulf Coast, with its steamy weather, exotic bugs, palm trees, tropical sunsets and sand that gets into everything. They’ve bought a cinder-block house by the sea. The entire story plays out on a screened outdoor lanai, aided by endless glasses of iced tea.
Soon Raleigh and May are hosting both of their mothers (introduced in the second play, See Rock City). These older women are now widows, and at loose ends in life. Then Raleigh’s sister Treva suddenly shows up, and she brings along several complicated issues of her own.
As a result, Hutton quickly has this play simmering with themes, including a possible remarriage, the looming breakup of another marriage, an unanticipated new baby and more. And social issues play out as well: Appalachian poverty, racial segregation, unequal educational and job opportunities for women and more make for earnest family discussion on this Florida lanai.
In the midst of it all, we’ve still got Raleigh and May, whose careers are pulling in different directions as they try to hold their relationship together while aiding their family members through life’s challenges.
The acting is quite good, and Buck Busfield’s direction hits the mood of the times, with a TV glowing somewhere inside the house, and the women wearing vintage hairstyles, without getting cute or sentimental. Jason Kuykendall (Raleigh) and Dana Brooke (May) have good chemistry going in this third installment. And it’s good to see Brooke, who’s generally played younger characters, moving into a role as a mature woman who takes control of her life amidst all the turbulence. Kuykendall—the only male character to appear in this three-play saga—faces challenges as a writer who has trouble concentrating on his work with all these high-maintenance women populating the little family home.
Judy Jean Berns gives another zesty performance as the stern, devoutly Southern Baptist (and functionally illiterate) mother of Raleigh, lighting up several scenes. Elizabeth Palmer, as May’s mom, is a gentler and more accepting presence. And Tara Sissom, as Raleigh’s troubled married sister Treva, gradually unleashes several revelations that shake up the story.
As a play, Gulf View Drive stands quite independently; it’s not really necessary to have seen the first two plays to enjoy this installment. And even though the ending seems a trifle contrived, with Hutton weaving the threads of the story together rather neatly, well, Shakespeare’s comedies tend to feature unrealistically symmetrical endings, and nobody complains about those plays.