Mrs. Brummett’s visit to Florida probably won’t end in snakebite, spider bite or concussion from falling coconuts. But her son, Raleigh, can’t resist teasing her with the prospect of such calamities when she arrives from Kentucky to stay with him and his wife, May. In Arlene Hutton’s “Gulf View Drive,” Raleigh’s gentle scaremongering is an early taste of the tension that will escalate in this oceanside home as the young couple copes with career anxieties, relationship strain and a surfeit of family guests.
The final installment in Hutton’s Nibroc Trilogy, “Gulf View Drive” evokes the friction in Raleigh and May’s household with astuteness, compassion and humor, and those elements get due justice in Washington Stage Guild’s engrossing, funny production, directed by Bill Largess. The company mounted fetching versions of “Last Train to Nibroc” and “See Rock City,” the first two installments, in 2017 and 2018. The return of Wood Van Meter and Lexi Langs, who aced the roles of Raleigh and May in those plays — and are assisted here by a fine supporting cast — makes “Gulf View Drive” a must-see for audiences who caught the earlier productions.
This play, set in 1953-54, makes frequent references to events from the trilogy’s earlier parts, so theatergoers who missed those will find themselves playing catch-up. But the humor, and much of the drama, will register clearly.
The charged give-and-take between Langs’s good-hearted but sometimes prickly May and Van Meter’s affable Raleigh is the heart of the story. But Lynn Steinmetz and Laura Giannarelli, who play the spouses’ respectively serene and grumpy mothers — reprising the roles from “See Rock City” — contribute valuably to the emotion, narrative texture and gratifyingly shifting mood. Chelsea Mayo, channeling Raleigh’s self-centered sister, Treva (a new character), adds to the comedy. (Sigrid Johannesdottir designed the 1950s costumes; Carl Gudenius and Jingwei Dai, the porch set.)
“Gulf View Drive” reaches more conspicuously for historical and social relevance than the first two plays in the trilogy, and a plot twist that drives home this emphasis can be seen coming. Still, this nicely paced production provides a rare opportunity to return to a pair of irresistible stage characters. And Hutton’s ability to find suspense, humor and poignancy in scenes of familial irritation is likely to strike a chord with every viewer.
“Gulf View Drive” isn’t the only show on area stages about beleaguered lovers from America’s past. Pointless Theatre’s new offering, “Visions of Love,” is a charming stage adaptation of Charlie Chaplin’s 1931 silent movie “City Lights.” Speech-free, except for occasional dialogue on intertitle cards, the play traces the romance between the mishap-prone Tramp (Kerry McGee) and a Blind Woman (Sharalys Silva) who sells flowers.
Directed by Matt Reckeweg, the engaging actors — including Vanessa Chapoy, Lee Gerstenhaber, Jon Reynolds, Eirin Stevenson and Scott Whalen — scurry on and off the intimate stage, conjuring chase scenes, a bumbling boxing match and loopily exaggerated class conflict. McGee does a creditable job approximating Chaplin’s Tramp, down to his signature gait. (Frank Labovitz designed the piquant costumes.) The production also benefits from personality-rich puppets, designed by Alex Vernon and brought to life by the actors. A supercilious-butler puppet is particularly delightful.
Adding hugely to the show’s impact, Reckeweg and his colleagues have carefully incorporated the music that Chaplin composed for “City Lights.” The score exudes old-fashioned sentiment and slapstick energy, and it underscores the action’s dancelike quality. A steadfast romance anchors this tale, but everything roundabout gambols with verve.
Gulf View Drive, by Arlene Hutton. Directed by Bill Largess; lighting design, Marianne Meadows; sound, Frank DiSalvo Jr. Two hours and 15 minutes. Through Feb. 10 at the Undercroft Theatre of Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, 900 Massachusetts Ave. NW. $50-$60. 240-582-0050. stageguild.org. Visions of Love, an original adaptation of Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights.” Music by Chaplin. Director, Matt Reckeweg; co-scenic designers, Patti Kalil and Frank Labovitz; lighting, Brittany Shemuga; props, Amy Kellet; sound, Michael Winch. About 60 minutes. Through Feb. 9 at Dance Loft on 14, 4618 14th St. NW. Tickets: $32. 202-733-6321. pointlesstheatre.com.