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Gulf View Drive
By Julia Furay
Last Train to Nibroc and its sequel See Rock City have been performed regionally over the years, but Gulf View Drive is making its New York Premiere. Unlike Last Train to Nibroc and See Rock City, which are World War II dramas focusing heavily on the war's effect on the home front, Gulf View Drive takes place years later. The time is 1953 and the focus is on the sometimes claustrophobic life of small town America in the 1950s.
As Gulf View Drive opens, we find Raleigh (Greg Steinbruner) and May (the talented Alexandra Geis, who created the role of May in the original 1999 production) are living something of a dream life in Florida. Raleigh, a sunny and lighthearted type, has not only found success with his novels but seems to have left his epilepsy behind as well. May, the more prim and straitlaced of the pair, is working as a schoolteacher near their small home off the Gulf of Mexico. Trouble comes with the arrival of Raleigh's joyless mother (Ruth Nightengale) for a visit of indeterminate length. It doesn't take long for her to place her stamp of disapproval on just about everything she sees in Florida. With May's mother (Polly Adams) already living with them and Raleigh's pregnant sister Treva (Christina Denzinger) also headed their way, you have one very overcrowded house— and a surefire recipe for tension.
While May's frosty relationship with both her mother-in-law and sister-in-law spark the drama, the big problem is the marital strain between Raleigh and May. As May's frustration mounts, she becomes increasingly harsh and spiteful to Raleigh, who in turn begins to use his jokey mannerisms and cheerful nature as a shield. Steinbruner and Geis handle the gowing conflict well, as do the other three cast members even though they're given less to do. Adams (as May's mother) is just as affable and kind as Nightengale is sour and cold. Denzinger shows Treva fully able to handle a nasty husband and unwanted pregnancy, as long as she can watch her soap operas.
What's apparent throughout is that these characters feel like real people and it's easy to see why Hutton (and audiences) wanted to continue to follow their stories. Hutton has created genuine, likeable people who face their life dramas with thoughtfulness and candor. And while these are ordinary people, their problems are interesting and part of the period. May's fight against segregation in her school, and Raleigh's McCarthy-supporting friends, feel very grounded in 1953. But it's the personal and timeless problems of having to learn to say no to your family and to communicate yourself to your spouse are what give the play its real power.
Gulf View Drive is perhaps a little softer than it needs to be. The Hutton's characters are more wholesome and less jaded than so many encountered these days, which is refreshing. Because these are such good people deep down so that one never doubt that they will all eventually do the right thing and that a happy ending will follow, this lowers the dramatic stakes a bit. Nevertheless, the path to get to that happy ending is always involving and often surprising. In short, Gulf View Drive is not only a well-constructed play, but also a solid finish to what has become a very successful and endearing trilogy.
Last Train to Nibroc, original 1999 production, reviewed by Elyse Sommer
See Rock City in the Berkshires, reviewed by Elyse Sommer
The Nibroc Trilogy in Los Angeles, reviewed by Laura Hitchcock
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide