WWII play addresses current teen issues
By Cheryl Minns, Arts Editor
Growing up is hard in any era, but especially in 1945 when Dad is away at war, Mom is in a feud with a bohemian art teacher, and a friend is making a move on the girl next door. Welcome to Charlie’s life in the Metro Theatre’s production of A.R. Gurney’s What I Did Last Summer.
While 14-year-old Charlie (played by Joe Hinks) is on vacation with his American family on the shores of Lake Erie, he gets a summer job as a handyman for Anna Trumball (Robyn Bradley), an ousted socialite who is known to locals as “the pig woman.” Having turned her back on high society norms like a lawn full of green grass, she intends to teach the privileged Charlie a different way of life during a summer of art classes and chores. When things get bad at home because Charlie’s conservative mother, Grace (Patricia Braun), disapproves of Trumball, Charlie escapes to Trumball’s farm, the only place where he feels he can be himself.
“There’s something there about not getting on with your mum or your dad and being drawn to another adult as a result of that,” Hinks said to the Other Press in his natural British accent, which he perfectly disguises as American during the play.
“It’s era-specific in one way but in another it’s kind of like #14YearOldProblems—running away from home; getting to the end of your rope; thinking, ‘Ahh!’” said Hinks, who also co-produced the play.
But What I Did Last Summer isn’t only about Charlie, as the other characters remind the audience throughout the play. They frequently break the fourth wall and deliver brief monologues, such as Grace’s anxiety over raising the children without her husband, who is away at war; Charlie’s sister, Elsie (Kaitlin Stoneman), worrying about her weight and driving skills; and Charlie’s friend, Ted (Lucas Simon), feeling like an outsider because he’s Canadian.
Charlie’s other friend, Bonnie (Julia Siedlanowska), becomes the object of affection for the two boys, Charlie and Ted, who try to outdo each other in order to impress her. Charlie takes the handyman job after he sees that Bonnie is impressed when Ted talks about his job mowing lawns; he later attempts to drive a car because 16-year-old Ted is allowed to drive and takes Bonnie for a ride.
“It’s really fun playing a little girl who’s just discovering what she can do and kind of discovering her sexuality,” said Siedlanowska, a graduate of the Douglas College Theatre program.
The play includes vintage costumes and 1940s hairstyles, witty dialogue, and humorous views on society, as well as choreographed scenes when characters use a couch on the stage as a car and mime opening invisible doors, packing an invisible trunk, and stepping on invisible pedals.
“It’s so funny every night,” said Stoneman. “I like being able to hear it more than once because there’s a lot of jokes in there that you don’t hear when you see it the first time.”
For more information, check out www.metrotheatre.com/whatididlastsummer