Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Washington Stage Guild's GULF VIEW DRIVE

Washington Stage Guild’s production of Gulf View Drive, with its characters close up and as intimate as our own families, is done with both honesty and grace —this is live theater at its best.
Larger than their individual concerns in Gulf View Drive at Washington Stage Guild are the deluge of changes coming in the decade the characters inhabit in the 1950s. 
While in the background are the corny culture symbols of the 50s (Queen for a Day quiz show on television with four women with a sob story:), what looms in the decade ahead are confrontations:  McCarthyism, blatant racism and sexism as well as the post trauma of returning World War II veterans. 
Their immediate tasks are the personal worries set in scenes starting right after Thanksgiving and going through Christmas and Easter to Mother’s Day—all the touchstone dates of family gathering which stir up conflicts.  
WSG cast works seamlessly together even as the characters are  stubbornly at odds.
Wood Van Meter is Raleigh, a successful writer of serial novels  and Lexi Langs is May, his wife and a school teacher.  Far from their life in Kentucky or the war in Europe, they have now paid all cash for their new home in Florida with a view of the water (and the dreams of what can be seen beyond it).
Lynn Steinmetz is Mrs. Gill, May’s widowed mother who has been living with them for a year now and totally cheerful about her new life.  Laura Giannarelli is Mrs. Brummett, Raleigh’s recently widowed mother who arrives with her cranky comments about everything.  Chelsea Mayo is Raleigh’s sister Treva—the unexpected arrival—who is  always tired and out of cigarettes.
At first the issues seem simple.  Musical beds for where each one will sleep? Whose turn is it for kitchen duty for supper?  
Then the secrets that make each one seem so self absorbed and selfish unfold until Raleigh’s and May’s relationship, so lovingly romantic at the beginning, seems to come apart.  
Mrs. Brummett has no home to go back to because the owner of the farm where she has been a sharecropper all her married life has sold it.  She can’t read so while she can drive a tractor, she can’t get a driver’s license. Treva has left her husband in Detroit and kids in Kentucky and with good reason. Raleigh and Mrs. Gill have secret fun outings in the afternoon, unbeknownst to May who has a long held pain she has yet to share.  
Until the end resolve, I held my breath…this has got to work out for everyone. After all this is modern theater about ordinary people and not a Shakespearean tragedy to end with dead bodies of royalty lining the stage. 
This is the third of Arlene Hutton’s plays to feature the same cast of characters.  That said, the play stands on its own even though it invites to re-view Last Train to Nibroc and Sea Rock City.  
What I await is the next installment. Just as Raleigh writes serial novels, and Treva watches endless tv soap operas, I can hope that the playwright will find a way to tell us what happens next in their lives… and that this excellent cast so assembled as a family on stage will bring it live to us at Washington Stage Guild.
WASHINGTON STAGE GUILD (UNTIL FEB. 10, 2019)