With the wonderful cast and director of the previous installments reprising their roles, the third and last installment of the Nibroc Trilogy, Gulf View Drive, the conclusion to one of the most popular and critically acclaimed projects in Rubicon Theatre history, opened to an energetic and enthusiastic house last night. The play runs through 12 February 2017, and if you missed any of the two previous parts of the trilogy, no worries, this play stands on its own and offers up some first-rate comedy in the process.
One of the best things about this production is the production itself. For starters Mike Billings and his crew have created a magnificently appropriate set, and the costume design by Marcy Froehlich is knock-out good. We’ve come to expect excellence from Ms Froehlich, but the recreation of 1953 through clothing for all the characters is finely nuanced and attuned to each character’s station in life and how that would play out in the early 50s. It’s a show in itself.
The rarer achievement of the production, though, is getting the same cast and director again for the finale. In this day and age, where top theatre companies are not all located together in one or two world capitals and actors are no longer tied production after production to a single house, but flit around the world with ever-more-complex and dizzying schedules, it is a truly remarkable achievement to get a repeat cast for just two plays, let alone three plays over three seasons. What Karyl Lynn Burns and James O’Neil have done with this trilogy is close to miraculous.
Sharon Sharth, Clarinda Ross, Faline England, Erik Odom, Sharon Sharth and Lily Nicksay star in Gulf View Drive,
the final play of the acclaimed Nibroc Trilogy by Arlene Hutton. Performances January 25 – February 12 at Rubicon Theatre Company.
Photo credit: Jeanne Tanner
Over three years, we’ve not only watched the evolution of the characters in this endearing American heartland story, but we’ve had the privilege of witnessing the evolution of the talent behind those characters: the evolution of a young actor, Erik Odom [playing Raleigh], and actress Lily Nicksay [playing May] within the context of their own careers; the birth of the career of the youngest director to ever direct a play at the Rubicon, Katherine Farmer, and her emergence as an international theatre directing talent; and the deepening engagement with their characters from two fine veteran actresses, Sharon Sharth playing May’s mother, Mrs. Gill, and Clarinda Ross playing Mrs. Brumett, Raleigh’s mother.
Gulf View Drive also features a new addition to the mix in a fine and appropriately snarky presentation of Treva, Raleigh’s sister, by Rubicon veteran, Faline England. The resulting chemistry and acting is a treat not to be missed. At times it gets a bit overwrought, but fun nevertheless.
The play opens in 1953 with the now settled young couple, May and Raleigh, in a Florida beach cinder brick, with May teaching in the local school and Raleigh enjoying, or at least trying to enjoy, the fruits of an unexpectedly successful serial-novel writing career. May’s mother, Mrs. Gill, has been living with them amicably in Florida for the past year. Now Raleigh’s more ignorant and difficult mother, Mrs Brummett, has come to stay. Soon Raleigh’s more troubled sister, Treva, appears, pushing May’s patience with her in-laws to its limits as well as expanding the comic possibilities. As we anticipate, the increasingly crowded home slowly implodes, furthering said comic possibilities.
While the earlier plays in the trilogy were tightly drawn character studies with a finely tuned depiction of a simpler and closer-to-the-earth America, examples of a kind of theatre that once graced many of the stages of America in the early post-war era, now that the play is actually set in that post-war era, the play turns toward another, almost completely different, genre. Gulf View Drive is much closer in form to a classic stage or TV sitcom than it is to the type of plays the author, Arlene Hutton, paid homage to in the first two parts of the Nibroc Trilogy.
In many ways this suits Ms Hutton’s talents, for she is a fine comic writer and gives us plenty of good lines in this play. On the other hand, even though she drops in heavy issue after heavy “timely issue,” they still land with that floating, almost superficial characterization we’ve come to expect from similarly larded TV sitcoms over the last thirty years. The play could have worked with a lot less, and may even have achieved the depth of the Last Train to Nibroc, which achieved much of its depth due to its deceptive simplicity, honesty, and clarity, including a complete lack of pandering to current fads and tastes. But in Gulf View Drive, Hutton has chosen to do something else, something less unified, but more easily accessible on the surface, and to a first-time audience.
Thus as far as the script goes, the play not only stands on its own, it presents a slightly different type of play than parts one and two. This play is far more self-contained, working within set plot dimensions and going for clear comic punches, instead of the softly nuanced emotions and understated story arcs with fuzzy borders of Last Train to Nibroc.
See Rock City definitely had some of this and serves as a telling transition, hinting as to what Hutton gives us in Gulf View Drive, but it still retains at least the pretence of a being a romance, albeit with an appropriate end-of-innocence hit at a young marriage in crisis . But Gulf View Drive is more than a hint of something else, it is a full-on situation comedy, retaining little of what was at the core of Last Train to Nibroc. Writers evolve too, as they should surely choose to do.
Faline England as Treva, Sharon Sharth as Mrs. Gill, Lily Nicksay as May, Clarinda Ross as Mrs. Brummett and Erik Odom as Raleigh
in Gulf View Drive,the final play of the acclaimed Nibroc Trilogy by Arlene Hutton.
Performances January 25 – February 12 at Rubicon Theatre Company. Photo credit: Jeanne Tanner
This is actually a good thing for those who have not seen the first two plays and wish to see this one. For in a way this makes it easier for newcomers who are encountering the trilogy for the first time and seeing Gulf View Drive first, to follow the emotional dimensions of the play and completely get the story arcs as they unfold, without having to bog down the play with unnecessary “filling in” of past details. Everything you need to know regarding dramatic and character development in Gulf View Drive is presented within the play itself and the play has a more closed structure than the previous two, leaving us no doubt as to where things stand not only at the end, but throughout. It’s a clever solution to the problem of how to write the conclusion to a trilogy on stage in an age when stages do not usually offer plays in series by the same company, thus forcing each play to stand on its own.
Where Last Train to Nibroc was lean, yet full of open possibilities, things we wanted to know, ending with possibilities and things we did not know; in Gulf View Drive, we get to know all we need to know and then some. In fact, it wraps up things almost too neatly, almost to a fault, bordering on appearing almost too facile in its plotting; in the end coming close to losing the plain, honest believability that stands at the heart of Last Train to Nibroc and See Rock City, the first two plays in the trilogy.
But these are definitely not reasons to not see the play, on the contrary, they make the play far more accessible to a far greater audience than would otherwise be possible, and all the more reason for, no matter who you are, to go and enjoy this fine production of a play, and conclusion to a rather remarkable, highly successful project on Rubicon Theatre’s part.
Tickets for GULF VIEW DRIVE range from $30 to $55 (Tickets for students with ID are $25; Equity members and military are $30. There is a $5 discount for seniors 65 and older. There is a $4 service fee for ticket handling. Discounts of 10% to 20% are available for groups of 10 or more, depending on the size of the group. Tickets for GULF VIEW DRIVE may be purchased in person through the Rubicon Theatre Company Box Office at the corner of Main and Laurel in Ventura (Laurel entrance and downstairs) or online at www.rubicontheatre.org. To charge by phone, call 805.667.2900.
Rubicon Theatre Company
1006 E. Main St.
1006 E. Main St.
Ventura, CA 93001