We all know that a visit from the in-laws is enough to throw any young couple into a tizzy, but an indefinite (nay, open-ended) stay can wreak havoc on a marriage and general familial relationships in the wink of an eye.
This is the dilemma faced by Raleigh and May Brummet when both their widowed mothers and, subsequently, Raleigh's older sister descend on their lovely—fully paid for in cash, as Raleigh so proudly proclaims—home on the west coast of Florida in Arlene Hutton's comedy of manners (most of them bad), Gulf View Drive, now receiving a splendid production at Alliance Repertory Theatre under Michael A. Driscoll's masterful direction.n
The two mothers-in-law couldn't be more different, and therein lies the rub. Mrs. Gill, May's mother, possesses a sunny disposition, appears to be a rather low maintenance gal and keeps herself busy playing bridge and golf. Mrs. Brummet, who has arrived just as the curtain rises, is a crank, complaining about the heat, the bugs, the cinderblocks that make up the exterior walls of the house, the moisture, the church the young people attend (note: it's not Baptist like she's used to)—you name it, she's annoyed by the entire Florida lifestyle and life in general. Perhaps the thing that annoys her the most is that May works as a school teacher instead of staying at home to care for Raleigh and starting a family, ideas that would have been current and acceptable in the South of 1953 when the play takes place.
That she doesn't drive or have outside interests only makes Mrs. Brummet's presence more onerous, especially to May. Raleigh suffers from epilepsy and cannot drive, so he can't transport his mom wherever she wants to go. Luckily, he's a successful author of an ongoing series of children's novels and can work from home, although with so many people in the small house, he has a hard time finding a place and some quiet to do so.
When Trena, Raleigh's older sister, arrives, things get even more complicated. She's left her husband and is pregnant (she already has three children). What she intends to do with her life has a big impact on what will happen between the young couple, for good or for ill.
Director Driscoll has cast a quintet of actors who work together so well that it is easy to accept them as a family group. Veronica Friedman (May) and Matt McCarthy (Raleigh) have worked together before in Last Train to Nibroc, the first in Arlene Hutton's trilogy (Gulf View Drive is the third), so there is a naturalness about their interaction that speaks "husband and wife." Friedman is the embodiment of bewilderment and weariness at having these unexpected and unwelcome "guests" in her home, especially since her husband has a tendency to make decisions and inform her about them after the fact. Her face telegraphs the worry she feels inside; she is the most sympathetic character of the bunch. McCarthy's desire to keep everyone happy makes him an adorable puppy, but it's an uphill battle for him to juggle the needs and desires of these three women while staying on his wife's good side. He is really caught in the middle and whatever he does won't please everyone. McCarthy's convincing and natural delivery are especially winning.
Cody Dalton (center right) turns in a charming performance as the ebullient Mrs. Gill, amenable to whatever demands her in-law counterpart makes. She's the "dream mother-in-law," without any flaws (except overstaying her visit by a year) and not getting in anyone's way. In contrast, Terri Sturtevant's Mrs. Brummet (far right) is a real pain; even the audience finds her demands infuriating. For this role, Sturtevant has dropped her usual precious demeanor; her prominent dimples have receded, to be replaced by a perpetual scowl appropriate to the character. Even her walk speaks displeasure. And as Treva, Lynn Langone (second from left, above) elicits our sympathy by her defeated facial expressions and body English. This is a woman who has nowhere to go, no dreams to be fulfilled and a child she really does not want (and is unprepared to raise). Yes, she's lazy and clueless, but her demoralized demeanor speaks volumes.
Kevin Gunther has designed a set is the archetypal Florida home, and Lili Marques' costumes fit the time and place and characters perfectly. Michael Driscoll's terrific sound uses fifties melodies and radio shows to evoke powerful memories of the era.
Gulf View Drive is the third in what is known as the Nibroc Trilogy, but the play stands on its own as an examination of family dynamics, and the clash between entrenched social values and more modern views. Somehow, those things are timeless and universal, no matter what the time and place. Isn't that what theater is supposed to be about?
Gulf View Drive will be performed Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through January 28 in the Loft at the Union County Performing Arts Center, 1601 Irving Street, Rahway. For information and tickets, call 732.499.8226.
(Photos: Howard Fischer)