Tuesday, July 21, 2009

See Rock City, now at B Street

(Jason Kuykendall and Dana Brooke
Courtesy Photo)
“See Rock City,” now offered by Sacramento’s B Street Theatre, is the second play in the Nibroc Trilogy. It comes chronologically after “The Last Train to Nibroc,” a perennial favorite at B Street, and precedes in time the final play, “Gulf View Drive.” All three are products of the adroit and seasoned playwright Arlene Hutton. Among the awesome qualities of “See Rock City” is its ability to stand alone as a finished product and yet tease us into wanting to return for more.

The first play, “Last Train,” begins in 1940, the year before Pearl Harbor, and brings together Raleigh (Jason Kykendall), a soldier who received an early medical discharge because he has epilepsy, and May (Dana Brooke), a prickly young woman with strong religious beliefs. Both, by coincidence, hail from rural Kentucky, and the play follows their up-and-down courtship until their inevitable marriage.

In “See Rock City,” Hutton deftly blends in the essential earlier background. Ironically, the couple never see Rock City, their honeymoon destination. Having missed their train they wind up in Cincinnati and return to May’s old Kentucky home, where they live with her caring and kindly mother, Mrs. Gill (Elizabeth Palmer). Raleigh’s mother, the prickly Mrs. Brummett (Judy Jean Berns), lives nearby and brushes off his disability while blaming his failure on congenital laziness.

All the action in this long one-act takes place in the front yard and on the porch of Mrs. Gill’s modest blue cottage in a rural community where iced tea is the equivalent of champagne. Occasionally we hear an automobile horn in the background as it calls for Mrs. Brummett to return home. The time frame, spread over six scenes, covers June 1944 to August 1945, the winding down of World War II.

In some ways the play resembles Arthur Miller’s 1947 classic “All My Sons,” which also covers this period and takes place in a similar location. In both plays a son is killed late in the war, but the overall stories differ. Nowadays that Great War can be seen as history and thus critically. In “See Rock City” we encounter a painful irony as the nation pays homage to its returning heroes by giving them other people’s jobs. Thus May’s position as a teacher, needed to support her and Raleigh, is handed over to a returning veteran.

But Raleigh’s fate suffers even greater ironies. Foreseeing the war, he enlisted in the army early, where his epilepsy was discovered and brought on his immediate discharge. But his short term service kept him from receiving medical benefits or access to the G.I. Bill. In the recent past he was a successful short story writer, but now all he gets are rejection slips.

His condition denies him other employment and he can’t even get a driver’s license. Adding to the irony he’s treated with contempt by strangers, who view him as a draft dodger. He was even spat on by a woman whose son died in the war.

But a glimpse of light comes through at the end, when an unexpected letter arrives for Raleigh and sends him to New York.

Under Elisabeth Nunziato’s nuanced direction the fine cast offer authoritative performances as the relaxed country characters we might expect to meet in the rural South. And as we leave the theater we’re eager to return, to find out what happens in the final play of the trilogy, “Gulf View Drive,” opening at B Street on August 30.

“See Rock City” continues through August 23 at 2727 B Street, Sacramento, behind the Stanford Park Baseball Field. Performances are Tuesday-Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m. Tickets are from $23 to $35. Call (916) 443-5300. See also http://www.bstreettheatre.org/.

No comments: