‘What I Did Last Summer’ at McLean Community Players by Francine Schwartz

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McLean Community Players’ production of A.R. Gurney’s What I Did Last Summer is beautifully directed by Adriana Hardy, and is a showpiece for young actors whose ability to inhabit a collection of teenagers from the fifties is quite remarkable.
Forrest Browne (Charlie) and Jessie Roberts (Anna Trumbull). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Photography.

The play is set in a summer colony during World War II, round 1945, just before the war ends. It is sometimes cast with adults looking back on those formative years of their lives, but here the actors only occasionally step out of their roles to speculate about the meaning of these events for their eventual character development.

Charlie, a rebellious fourteen-year-old, (Forrest Browne) is summering with his mother and sister while his father is fighting in the Pacific. He is going off to an expensive boarding school in the fall, and intends to spend the summer loafing and socializing with his friends. To get some spending money and to demonstrate his manliness to a local girl, he takes a job as handyman for an iconoclastic, bohemian art teacher, Anna. Sensing a kindred spirit in Charlie, she tries to stretch his mind by teaching him painting and sculpture – and exposing him to “radical” ideas about life, love, naturalism and the limits of materialism. The result is a family crisis and, more specifically, a showdown between Anna ( an assertive Jessie Roberts) and Charlie’s conservative mother (a very stressed out Roberta Chaves). These events provoke a clash of philosophies that shapes the man Charlie is destined to become.
The staging uses pantomime creatively to augment Dinnie Whitson’s clever set, turning benches into cars and back again, with amusing sound effects credited to Jon Roberts. Lighting Designer Chris Hardy create some magic with a backdrop that evokes the pastoral setting of the Lake Erie lakeside.

Forrest Browne’s Charlie exudes an innocence and sincerity that helps keep the audience engaged. He is a terrific young actor and I look forward to seeing him in future productions. Maria Berkowitz’s Bonny is quite charming (though at times a little too shrill), and she is sure to have a bright future in musical comedy. 15 year-old Thomas Kelty, who is already a veteran of over 30 productions, has fun playing a  Canadian version of ‘The Fonz’ from Happy Days, and Catherine La Valley is well cast as older sister Elsie.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

The cast of ‘What I Did Last Summer’: Back row: Catherine La Valley, Thomas Kelty, and Maria Berkowitz. Front: Roberta Chaves, Forrest Browne, and Jessie Roberts. Photo by Traci J. Brooks Photography.

What I Did Last Summer plays through November 4, 2012, at McLean Community Players, at The Alden Theatre at The McLean Community Center – 1234 Ingleside Road, in McLean, VA. For tickets, call (703) 790-9223, or purchase them online.