Kelly Patton and Garret Patton appear in Gulf View Drive. Photo courtesy of Little Colonel Playhouse.
Last season, Little Colonel Players mounted a thoughtful production of Last Train to Nibroc, the first in a trilogy of plays by Arlene Hutton charting the relationship of Raleigh and May, a young couple from Kentucky who meet during World War II. Now comes the final chapter, Gulf View Drive, with the same two actors who so successfully portrayed these characters the first time: Garret and Kelly Patton.
A program note explains that it was decided not to mount the second play, See Rock City, because it was deemed to be too sad and unresolved, with the couple apparently separated, uncertain about whether they have a future together. Audiences are not always easy to come by, so it is difficult to fault companies for choosing as much for the marketplace as for artistic gratification. But I must confess disappointment at the missed opportunity of following the story through all three plays, especially since they have done a pretty good job once again.
We catch up to the couple in 1953, which positions the trilogy as neatly encapsulating the American post-war period on the cusp of Eisenhower-era prosperity. They are now married and living on the gulf coast of Florida with May’s mother, and Raleigh’s mother has come for an extended visit. After his sister Treva arrives to escape a troubled marriage, the stress and strain of Raleigh and May’s relationship begin to be explored in earnest, allowing the playwright to explore a moving family dynamic. What results is a scenario that finds satisfying dramatic resolution while forecasting societal changes that are still part of the social and political discourse today.
Garrett and Kelly Patton bring some of the same deep understanding of Raleigh and May that characterized their first attack on this couple, although the inclusion of other characters dilutes the impact slightly. Grace Poganski does well by Mrs. Brummett (Raleigh’s mother), but she is hampered somewhat by the writer’s insistence on grounding this character in tired mother-in-law clichés that are the one truly weak aspect of the writing. It provides for some laughs and Ms. Patton, in particular, plays off Ms. Polanski’s well-turned judgmental barbs with great subtlety; but it remains a weakness.
As May’s mother, Mrs. Gill – who lives with the couple – Janet Morris finds the (comparatively) free spirit and compassion of the character, illustrating a sharp contrast between the two mother hens. Finally, Kristina Ramsey attacks the role of Treva with great energy that threatens to overcome the character but still manages to illuminate the conflicts within a complex and self-absorbed woman grappling with her own domestic troubles.
Although the early scenes suffered a few stumbled line readings and dropped cues, the overall pace of Martha Frazier’s staging was brisk, moving at just the right speed to allow the audience to connect with the characters.
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