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What I Did Last Summer

a Comedy
CATEGORY : COMEDY
by A.R. Gurney

COMPANY : Georgia Ensemble Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Roswell Cultural Arts Center
ID# 3506

SHOWING : February 25, 2010 - March 14, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

This gentle and funny coming-of-age story focuses on an American family in 1945 as they spend their summer on the Canadian shore of Lake Erie. 14 year-old Charlie has flunked Latin, but rather than study, he wants to be swimming or playing pranks with his best friend. He takes a job as handyman for a bohemian art teacher who tries to stretch Charlie's mind by teaching him painting and sculpture, which leads to a showdown between the teacher and Charlie's mother in a clash of philosophies which will shape the man Charlie is destined to become.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Tess Malis Kincaid
Elsie Rebecca Kling
Bonny Brittany Loffert
Anna Megan McFarland
Ted Eric Mendenhall
Charlie Chris Moses
Grace Mary Lynn Owen
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REVIEWS

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Summer of '45
by Dedalus
Thursday, March 11, 2010
4.0
A.R. Gurney’s plays are like a summer home on the shores of a pleasant lake. They take you away from the real world, provide some pleasant memories, and send you on your way, refreshed and ready to re-face your own life.

“What I Did Last Summer” (1998, I think) does this literally – it takes place on the shores of Lake Erie one summer during World War II. Structured as a memory play, it brings us Charlie and his family. Charlie is 14, his sister is quite a bit older, his Mom is struggling to keep her children sane and alive while Dad is off fighting in the South Pacific, and his best friend, Ted, is getting too comfortable with the nicest girl in the community, Bonnie. All are typical Gurney characters, upper middle-class, a little too self-involved, a little too spoiled and prone to neurosis and eccentricity.

All of these characters take turns telling us why think this play is (or is not) about themselves.

Feeling bored and at odds with his world, Charlie takes a summer “odd jobs” job with local eccentric, spinster ex-teacher Anna, about whom gossip swarms likes moths around a tiki lamp. Anna is that teacher we all wish we had – seeing potential in everyone, not caring a whit about what people say, following the beat of her life and taking no prisoners.

As a result, Charlie’s rebels against the stultifying debutante world of his mother, becomes ever so attractive to Bonnie, and even finds the joy in bad art – it may not be any good, but it’s HIS, and maybe it’s the first step to finding where his path will really take him.

If this sounds like you’ve seen it before, maybe you have. It certainly has echoes of every “This teacher changed my life” story ever written (think “Goodbye, Mr. Chips, “ “To Sir With Love,” “Stand and Deliver,” “Dead Poets Society,” “Dangerous Minds,” etc etc etc). It certainly adds nothing new to the genre, and the plot surprises are mild and half-expected (for example, the history between Anna and Charlie’s Mom).

Still, it is a story that resonates for me, and it’s told in a way that hits every nuance just right. First-time director Tess Malis Kincaid gets everything right – set and mood, cast and pace. The bare-bones set is warmly lit by Lighting Designer Mary Parker in a style that nostalgically evokes every lazy summer vacation I can remember.

And this cast is almost perfect. All right, Chris Moses, Brittany Loffert, and Eric Mendenhall are all way beyond their mid-teen years, but they certainly don’t act like it. They weren’t on stage more than a minute before they convinced me of their youth and wide-eyed embrace of everything this world will offer them. Mary Lynn Owen does her usual better-than-good job as Grace (“Mom”) and Rebecca King is nicely whiny as older sister Elsie.

But it is Megan McFarland as Anna who really sells this show for me. The only character who doesn’t address us directly (so we never hear her say how “This play is about me”), she wins over the audience as easily as she wins over Charlie. Hiding an attractive vulnerability beneath a veneer of eccentricity, she is, indeed, every teacher we wish we had.

Yes, this is a very familiar story. And, I can’t say I’m a fan of all of A.R. Gurney’s variations-on-an-upper-class theme plays. But here, the sense of familiarity actually works, actually helps feed the nostalgia-engine that drives the production.

But, it’s really the director and the cast who are the true stars here, the real reason “What I Did Last Summer” works.

So, make no mistake, this review is definitely about them!

-- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy)



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