Clague Playhouse has opened the third one of the quirky and literate plays by Arlene Hutton in the so-called “Nibroc” trilogy. “Gulf View Drive” has all of the elements of the two previous scripts, but to a lesser degree.
First, “Gulf View Drive” stands fine on its own. The characters and situations are independent of the two earlier installments, and an audience member would not know that the the play is linked to others in any way.
The time is the post-World War II era of Senator McCarthy and the explosive growth of Florida as the place to be. Writer Raleigh Brummett and his teacher wife, May, have settled in a cinder-block home on the Gulf Coast. There are some extra house guests: Both his mother and hers have moved in. Mrs. Brummett is the stoic Baptist widow of a sharecropper from Kentucky, and Mrs. Gill is the free-thinking widow who golfs while actively seeking her next husband. Finally, Raleigh’s frumpy sister Treva moves in, and the four women form a recipe for conflict.
“Gulf View Drive” is saturated with local color, just as the Florida coast is saturated with rain. The attraction of the beach, the screened-in porch and the humid heat are as much players as the cast in this show. With the focus on family, the show’s six scenes are linked with holidays, starting at Thanksgiving and ending, appropriately, before Mother’s Day.
Hutton’s characters are small gems for an actor to develop into. Bette Prendergast is a wide-eyed Mrs. Gill who remains aloof from the squabbles of the rest of the family. Bernadette Hisey as Mrs. Brummett gets a good audience reaction as the complaining Kentucky native. The character of May, admirably played by Debbie Lenarz, is initially portrayed as naive and overly romantic, but in the play’s best written final scene, achieves nobility. Her husband Raleigh is frustrated in his attempts to be the head of the household, the primary breadwinner and referee for the arguments. Bobby Coyne juggles the three aspects of Raleigh. The final character, Treva, is that constantly annoying in-law whom everyone has. Jacqueline Scheufler takes this role.
On opening night, the cast was just mastering the awkward writing of playwright Hutton, in which two or more characters essentially ignore what the others are saying and just put forth what is on their mind at the time. It’s not true to life, but it works, to an extent, in the play. Still at that level, the cast had a hard time convincing the audience of the deeper emotional content of the script. That this play is weaker than its older siblings did not help.
I like that “Gulf View Drive” introduces issues such as racial integration, post-war shifts in values and evolving gender roles. The cast is not yet up to speed in this show, and the script is more ponderous than others. Candace Lipton’s costumes look great in the up-close Clague theater, and Ron Newell’s set communicates all that it needs to. Perhaps after a week of audiences, the cast will settle into a deeper emotional connection with the characters, and bring that understanding to the audience.
“Gulf View Drive” runs weekends at Clague Playhouse through Feb. 3.