At its best, theater creates a reality so authentic and compelling that whatever self-consciousness divides the audience from the performers dissolves, and everyone in the room is caught up in a single, collective vision. Even very good productions can only expect to achieve this exalted state for a few fleeting moments, and it’s a rare thing to witness a play that can sustain it over the course of an entire evening. That’s what makes not only Gulf View Drive, the latest installment in Arlene Hutton’s extraordinary Nibroc trilogy, but the whole three-play sequence so special. Through the careful stewardship of director Katharine Farmer and the Rubicon team, the Nibroc trilogy has now told a long and fulfilling story populated by deep, lovable characters who keep finding ways to surprise us right to the very end.
As Gulf View Drive begins, May (Lily Nicksay) and Raleigh (Erik Odom) have left Kentucky and are living in a small cinderblock house in Florida that sits on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. Following a solo stint in New York City, Raleigh has made it as a novelist. The couple’s little house and a dilapidated boat testify to the financial success of his adventure series. May teaches high school English, and her mother, Mrs. Gill (Sharon Sharth), lives with them following the death of her husband and her son.
The play’s main conflict arises out of the appearance of two more houseguests, Raleigh’s Debbie Downer of a mother, Mrs. Brummett (Clarinda Ross), and his distressed sister Treva (Faline England). Once again, Odom plays the role of the wounded but deeply compassionate Raleigh with a fine mix of sensitivity and warmth. His witty rejoinders to the harping of Mrs. Brummett garner some of the evening’s biggest laughs. The beautifully constructed first act concludes in a house-wide dustup that brings out the latent anxieties of all the characters.
Although fine ensemble work across the board lays its firm foundation, Gulf View Drive’s highest points belong to Nicksay as May. She plays the role with total commitment and an aching honesty that’s utterly enthralling. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to see a play that gives a great young performer this much to work with and to see a great young performer so thoroughly transfigured by her art.