By Tulis McCall
There are a couple of spectacular scenes in Indian Summer by Gregory S. Moss now at Playwrights Horizons. They sneak up on you the way melancholy did when you were a teenager and the summer was wandering to an end. It’s part of the passage of life, is it not?
The summer in question is somewhere around the present era on a beach in Rhode Island, the smallest state in the country – at high tide. Daniel (Owen Campbell) has been stashed with his mother’s step-grandfather George (Jonathan Hadary) while she goes off to, um, well we never find out. Daniel is 16, and why he doesn’t have a summer job is, like his mother’s whereabouts, unknown. But here he is, and in his own quiet way he is not so happy about being marooned. He approaches the beach with reluctance. He wears shoes and crouches without actually sitting on the ground. Sand is not his friend.
Into this retreat-like atmosphere storms Izzy Rizzo (Elise Kibler) who is a year older and faking being way way smarter. Izzy is a townie and considers Daniel a summer person in spite of his assurance that he would rather be anywhere BUT on this particular beach. Her brash approach, however, does get his knickers in a twist. He refuses to hand over her little brother’s sand pail on the premise that possession is 9/10 of the law and he, Daniel, is in complete possession of this little bucket. Truth be told, Daniel is just looking for a little communication with someone other than his cryptic grandfather.
Izzy happily obliges because she too is looking for someone outside of her immediate circle to engage with. This is a very smart teenager, and she has precious little on which to teethe. She has only her family and her wild older boyfriend Jeremy (Joe Tippett) to keep her very fast brian occupied. And Jeremy is the one she calls in when Daniel proves more stubborn than she had anticipated. Things don’t go quite as planned, and after a few physical lessons, the three of them become more or less friends. Or friendly.
They become friendly enough for Izzy and Daniel to follow the paths that twist and turn and ultimately lead to one another. It is all very predictable and a little ho-hum as we watch the inevitable happen. Toward the finish line, however, the two scenes drift up out of the lethargic pace. In the first, Daniel and Izzy end up sitting back to back imagining how they might just possible perhaps see one another in ten or so years. They imagine careers and children and a husband for her. Not Jeremy. And no one for him. It is a lyrical scene that slides us all through the door into the past where we relive the emotion of saying goodbye to a lover, or possible love. Of saying goodbye to a sliver of time that we shared with someone else and that we have never, decades later, forgotten.
The other scene is one in which George, a widower, asks Izzy to put on his wife’s old dress and spend a little time with him. Nothing kinky. Just be her and let him be him. And Izzy, in a display of her true strong heart, does. They start off like two clumsy dancers but soon fall into t delicate pas de deux that is intimate and simple. When George asks her what it was like to die, she unrolls the tale with grace and ease.
Things don’t turn out the way you think they will, which is refreshing. And this is an absolute crackerjack cast. Watching these actors maneuver through the long shadows of summer, of young love and old lonely times, of small town desperation and teenage dreams – a total pleasure. Still, the good intentions and talent are not enough to get this play out of idle and into second gear. Details like the whereabouts of Daniel’s mother combined with the omission of cellphones, a teenage necessity these days, serve to punch holes in this story. In addition, the text could easily be snipped by 30 or so minutes. Once Moss makes his point he doubles back to make it again when he could, instead, proceed apace. His writing is very clear the first time around. The vague wandering into teenager romance is spot on, and you can almost hear the hearts breaking. After awhile, however, the salt water taffy is stretched too far and loses its tension.
INDIAN SUMMER – Written by Gregory S. Moss; Directed by Carolyn Cantor
WITH Owen Campbell, Jonathan Hadary, Elise Kibler and Joe Tippett
Set Design Dane Laffrey, Costume Design by Kaye Voyce, Lighting Design by Eric Southern; Playwrights Horizons’ Mainstage Theater (416 West 42nd Street). The limited engagement will play through Sunday evening, June 26.