A couple of Kentucky newlyweds and their respective mothers are all it takes for playwright Arlene Hutton to evoke the societal changes wrought by World War II in the most entertaining of ways in her justifiably lauded home-front dramedy See Rock City, exquisitely staged and performed this month at Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre.
The year is 1944, Allied forces have invaded Europe at Normandy, and 20somethings Raleigh (Erik Odom) and May (Lily Nicksay) are returning to his folks’ old Kentucky home following a year-delayed honeymoon spent unintentionally in Cincinnati, their plan to see Rock City, Georgia, having been torpedoed by an unforeseen empty gas tank.
Though clearly still head over heels for each other, Raleigh and May now find themselves facing challenges that would put any young couple’s marriage to the test.
With virtually the entire male population under a certain age off fighting the Axis in Europe and the Pacific, May has been granted the traditionally male role of school principal to Raleigh’s tradition-bound mother’s dismay.
As for May’s writer husband, the stories that only a year or two earlier were getting thumbs up from New York magazine editors now provoke one rejection letter after another, the last thing Raleigh needs after being discharged from the army less than three months into his military service, the result of an epileptic seizure. (That it was Raleigh who volunteered while most of those in uniform waited to be drafted means little to the small-minded townsfolk who’ve been calling him “coward” to his face.)
Over the course of fourteen pivotal months in American history, See Rock City takes us through the Normandy invasion, the initiation of the GI Bill, the death of FDR and Harry Truman’s early presidency, VE Day, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan’s surrender by revealing the effects of these events on Raleigh and May’s lives, those of their families, and their community as a whole.
Among said consequences, the promise of a free college education to returning soldiers turns out not to be as far-reaching as Raleigh would like, nor does May react all that well to one of the results of uniforms being exchanged for civilian garb.
The second installment in playwright Hutton’s Nibroc Trilogy (whose first “chapter” Last Train To Nibroc the Rubicon staged last year), See Rock City requires no previous knowledge to be thoroughly enjoyed. Still, those who’ve seen Episodes One and/or Two will be delighted to know that the Rubicon has Hutton’s concluding play Gulf View Drive on tap for next year.
See Rock City reunites ace director Katharine Farmer’s Last Train To Nibroc costars, the simply marvelous Odom and Nicksay, and it’s hard to imagine two actors better suited to play the homespun but quietly dashing Raleigh and the sunny but occasionally prickly May, the twosome’s personal history with the characters they’re reprising adding to their palpable chemistry as a stage couple.
A pair of night-and-day different moms spice up See Rock City, the wonderful Sharon Sharth all sunshine motherly warmth as Mrs. Gill and the delicious Clarinda Ross making vinegar seem sweet by comparison as Raleigh’s spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child mama Mrs. Brummett.
Scenic designer Mike Billings replicates the façade of Raleigh and May’s small-town abode so authentically, you wouldn’t mind stepping up on the porch and “settin’ a spell,” and his lighting design approximates various daylight hours to gorgeous effect. Austin Quan’s sound design (kudos for the passing cars) and Marcy Froehlich’s period costumes complete See Rock City’s production design to perfection.
Jessie Vacchiano is stage manager and Christina Burck is production manager.
Whether you’re a WWII buff or a fan of Horton Foote-style dramedies or simply a lover of great theater, See Rock City proves itself the quintessential crowd pleaser. I for one can’t wait to see The Nibroc Trilogy: Part Three next year.
Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main Street, Ventura.
February 7, 2016
Photos: Zachary Andrews