Arts & Events

Theater Review: A. R. Gurney's 'What I Did Last Summer' by Piedmont-Oakland Repertory Theatre (PORT)

Ken Bullock
Friday November 07, 2014 - 01:38:00 PM


A middle-aged writer (Brett Mermer) introduces himself to tell us what he did last summer: he wrote a play about what he, as a 14 year old, did one summer years before,--July, 1945, in fact, a war year--a summer that changed his life. This is the slender framing device for A. R. Gurney's coming of age play, which demonstrates both charm and pith in this production by Piedmont-Oakland Repertory Theatre (PORT). 

But first director John McMullen chooses an excellent alternative to what's become by now an old cliché, playing recorded music of a not-so-long bygone era before a show and during the intermission. Instead, Elizabeth Jane introduces and sings well several songs from the times, songs that figure in the play, though there just as a line quoted, a verse thrown back and forth: "Straighten Up & Fly Right," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" and so on. A nice touch. 

The cast--Cameron Dodd, Nathan Zabala, Melanie Marshall, Alison Whismore, Rosie Fry and Susannah Wood--make a neat ensemble for the often quick scenes with sharp dialogue and a few direct expositions to the audience by characters, about Charlie and his mother and sister--his father's fighting in the South Pacific--and their somewhat dyspeptic stay at "the lake" near the Northeast US-Canada border, and Charlie's experience with "the Pig Woman," a local character, an independent art teacher with a place down by the lakeshore, a nay-sayer to all that's bright & shiny & "progressive." Susannah Wood's performance is a high point, a character like a radicalized Auntie Mame--if that's not too much an oxymoron!--or like Anna Lee's hardboiled Bohemian artist character Mac in sam Fuller's 1959 film 'The Crimson Kimono'--and there's an old connection between her and Charlie's mother; the scene where that comes out is maybe the real center of the story ... 

It's a fine Fall entertainment--and hopefully PORT has a long run of its own on Piedmont Avenue. 

Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 2:30 & 7, 4137 Piedmont Avenue--across from Barney's--Oakland. $22 advance, $25 at the door.