Valley Views II — Four Plays
Charles G. Blewitt (Grenada 1969-71)
Uncle Wilson’s Productions
Reviewed by Tony D’Souza (Ivory Coast 2000-02, Madagascar 2002-03)
READING MORE LIKE SHORT STORIES, the four very brief plays in Charles G. Blewitt’s Valley Views II, all take place in the ‘Great Pocono Northeast’ of Northeastern Pennsylvania, which the author describes in his introduction as being populated by, “…first, second, or third generation descendants of ancestors who had literally been dropped off a bus or a train because they either had relatives living locally or they just didn’t have the fare to go farther.” That said, the people in these plays are familiar to any of us who live in smaller urban areas where socio economic groups and races live uncomfortably side by side. Using the framework of counseling in two of the plays, Blewitt mines those divides for his earnest attempts at community bridgework through art. In the best of his plays, however, he leaves class and race issues aside and focuses his lens on aging, producing the finest laughs in the book.
In ‘Aunt Betty,’ Blewitt recounts a middle-aged podiatrist’s trip to Florida to retrieve an extraordinarily prickly dying aunt, and in ‘City Counseling, Please Hold,’ he takes us on an uncomfortable visit to witness firsthand the trials and tribulations of some truly ‘disturbed’ mental patients, and the possibly even more neurotic doctors who administer to them. ‘Nica’s Dream’ again involves counseling, this time between an aged, white shrink and his dark-skinned, wounded, and sexually alluring young appointment, and in the final play, ‘Rain Delay: Golf and Death,’ the titular deluge fills the clubhouse with middle aged duffers who drown their sorrows as they mourn the untimely loss of one of their own.
Of the four plays, ‘Nica’s Dream’ and ‘Aunt Betty’ standout because Blewitt keeps the cast of characters lean enough to allow himself a chance to develop them, and for the reader to connect. The other two plays are so filled with transvestites, palookas, miffed secretaries, effete East Indian psychologists, and pharmaceutical reps cum snakeoil salesmen (in fact the company they shill for is tongue-in-cheekily named ‘Venomosa Laboratories’) that it’s hard to identify any sympathetic leads in the noisy crowds. His dialogue is funny-sometimes just for the sake of it-but a human element is lost in Blewitt’s hurly burly attempt to get far too much done.
‘Nica’s Dream’ and ‘Aunt Betty’ don’t do that, both plays center on relationships between one man and one woman; a January/May unrequited relationship in the former, and a Harold and Maude-esque road trip in the latter. In ‘Nica’s Dream,’ the older, white counselor quietly falls for his nineteen-year-old, mixed race patient, longing for her as she recounts her tale of an abusive relationship. Blewitt uses dues ex machina-literally in a weight room filled with workout machines-to allow his hero to confront Nica’s vile boyfriend. Finally wounded in an accident, the counselor has one last moment with his Nica when he comes to understand that his efforts on her behalf, as well as his love for her, have never gone in vain.
But it’s Blewitt’s first play, ‘Aunt Betty,’ that I enjoyed most, since nothing in it feels forced or manipulated to make a greater statement about the social ills that surround us. Blewitt’s first goal here is humor, and in the title character-a meaner version of Estelle Getty from The Golden Girls-he’s limned out a character who could easily carry a much longer work. The plane ride home with her is deliciously uncomfortable, and anyone with crabby, elderly relatives can immediately recognized these scenes as true. I’ll leave this review with this passage from the plane-Aunt Betty has just asked the flight attendant if the pillows are ‘down or fiber’ to her nephew-in-law Don’s horror ; it should whet anyone’s appetite for Blewitt’s book:
DON (disgusted): You have to do that, don’t you?
AUNT BETTY: What are you talkin’ about?
DON: Make people aware that somebody difficult is around.
AUNT BETTY: I have no idea what you mean.
DON: You most certainly do. Let me remind you of the other two episodes in the last 15 minutes.
AUNT BETTY (said with umbrage): Please do because my memory isn’t so good.
DON (with consternation): Aunt Betty, please don’t play the memory card on me, you know exactly what I’m talkin’ about.
AUNT BETTY: What?
DON: What about the African-American guy at the newsstand in the airport.
AUNT BETTY: Why I paid him a compliment!
DON: Your short-term memory seems to be improving rapidly, except for the fact that you only remember the beautiful impression you have of yourself.
AUNT BETTY: What do you mean? I told him that all the colored people should learn from his example?
DON: Didn’t you notice his expression? He looked like he was holdin’ in a mouthful of vinegar. Besides, what are you suggesting…that African Americans should be paper…people?
AUNT BETTY: Go on.
DON: And what about the driver of the handicap transport inside the terminal?
AUNT BETTY: What about him?
DON: He’s too young to know who Parnelli Jones was, much less connect him with Indy driving.
AUNT BETTY (with indignation): He was going way too fast!
Charles G. Blewitt (Grenada 1969-71) a Pennsylvania native, was born in Wilkes-Barre, raised in Pittston and educated at the University of Scranton. He received a NIMH Fellowship to the University of Pennsylvania where he earned an MSW in 1973. He subsequently received a doctorate in counseling from West Virginia University in 1985. He is the recipient of a United Nations Award for Community Service for work in gerontology. His professional experience has involved public and private sector mental health counseling, work in industry, college counseling and graduate and undergraduate teaching.
Reviewer Tony D’Souza’s (Ivory Coast 2000–02, Madagascar 2002–03)latest novel, Mule, was recently optioned for film by Warner Bros. His website is: http://TonyDSouza.com .