Last night I had the pleasure of my first trip to the Washington Stage Guild to see See Rock City at the Undercroft Theatre in Washington, D.C. When you visit, you will find this theater tucked in the lower level of a church; however, its comfortable seats, good concessions, and quality production prove good theater can happen anywhere. Washington Stage Guild’s Artistic Director Bill Largess directed this production of See Rock City.
Arlene Hutton wrote See Rock City in 2006, and it is partially inspired by her parents’ relationship and stories and her experience with her grandmothers. It is important to note that See Rock City is the second in a trilogy following the young lovers, Raleigh and May. Washington Stage Guild performed the first of the trilogy, Last Train to Nibroc, in their previous season so most of their season subscribers probably saw it. However, if you didn’t see it, be sure to read the Director’s Note for a little backstory. Then, when you get to the somewhat uncertain ending, remember the story actually finishes in the final installment, Gulf View Drive.
My favorite thing about this production is the way the designers and crew set the scene. The entire play takes place on the front porch of May’s parents’ house – and it is a busy porch. It is also your first impression of the whole play, and it starts you off beautifully. You can see from the painting of the house that it’s a little lived in, has seen some weather. The set is so detailed it felt like I was standing on the sidewalk looking up at the house. The set designers Carl F. Gudenius and Xiaoxiao Wang did a wonderful job. Sound designer Frank DiSalvo, Jr. set the tone between scenes with radio broadcasts from the 1940s, which then melded into popular songs from the era. It was a great, bittersweet mix, showing the contrast between the horrible events abroad, and the relative safety and happiness at home. The sound effects were also well timed and gave that extra feel of realism to the play. If I hadn’t read the program, and for some reason didn’t know that World War II was in the 1940s, I still would have known the time period from Noelle Cremer’s on-point costume designs. Everything felt quite accurate, down to the simple detail of the crease in Raleigh’s pants. It was a delight to see the women in their vintage dresses. Finally, lighting designer Marianne Meadows helped set the scene by showing the time of day. You could easily tell by the lovely shadows of the trees on the house when it was getting into the evening, or know it was midday by the bright, sunny lights.
See Rock City consists of four characters – May (Lexi Langs), Mrs. Gill (Lynn Steinmetz), Raleigh (Wood Van Meter), and Mrs. Brummett (Laura Giannarelli). Lexi Langs and Wood Van Meter actually reprise their roles of May and Raleigh after playing the same parts in Last Train to Nibroc last season. This explains the comfort and easy chemistry they displayed on stage last night. It was like seeing a real couple – a real couple you see go through many ups and downs. A high point in the show for me was the scene where May comes home and tells Raleigh about the District Meeting. Langs and Van Meter showed great emotion and levels and really connected with each other.
Steinmetz and Giannarelli as Mrs. Gill and Mrs. Brummett were a delight to watch but in very different ways. Steinmetz perfectly executed the sweet but tough-on-her-kids mother. She was sincere and very caring, though she didn’t always see her children too clearly. On the other hand, Giannarelli was terrifically nasty as the mean Mrs. Gill who can’t help dishing out backhanded compliments and advice. She made me cringe whenever she was on stage, which I count as a job well done.
This cast and crew bring you a snapshot of the 1940s and the effect the war had on those who didn’t participate. It is a story not told as often in the movies, where we normally are shown the glory of the battlefront or the offices where the war is planned.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one intermission.