By David Walters
There is a warm nostalgic recognition in the audience (from those who were alive then) for many of the 70s references, eliciting oohs and aahs of communal memory (macrame purses, 70s music, popular books of the time) that quickly establishes a comfortableness with the audience. That’s what Summer, 1976 is, a comfortable play, but raised in stature by the acting prowess of its two stars, Jessica Hecht and Laura Linney, and by the shape-shifting translucence of the set by John Lee Beatty, and subtly participatory lighting of Japhy Weideman (loved the lighting bugs).
There is no fourth wall. The characters, Diana (Laura Linney) and Alice (Laura Hect) recant the story of a friendship that bloomed, flowered, and faded in the course of one year, describing directly to the audience and reenacting conversations that occurred. In the course of that year, their lives shift as they both challenge and help each other deal with the travails of career, family, health, and self-worth. There are a couple of red herrings that are a bit disconcerting in their placement in the story, but all in all, this is a well-constructed good play.
The friends originally made a connection through their five-year-old daughters who became friends first. It’s a common occurrence (those of you with kids know), connections are made and warm feelings of familiarity with other parents happen, but as the kids move on to other schools and other friends, the friendship you had with the other parent fades as your lives move on. The fondness for that memory lingers, but the connection and commonality have dimmed as you are no longer sharing the day-to-day. There’s a sadness for that faded familiarity, a wondering why it faded, and an eventual understanding and letting go that occurs. All of that is wonderfully captured in the journey of the play.
Since it was first announced, and for good reason, people have been looking forward to the pairing of Ms. Linney and Ms. Hecht, two widely acclaimed actresses that have never before worked together. That reason is justified in this David Auburn MTC-commissioned play. It must have been a delightful rehearsal process for director Daniel Sullivan as these two women discovered their characters and built their relationships. It was a delight to experience the result of all of their work. They lift each other to new heights and soar together. Do go see it for that reason alone.
Manhattan Theatre Club’s World premiere of Summer, 1976 is now playing on Broadway at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 W. 47th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue).
Summer, 1976 was written by David Auburn, and directed by Daniel Sullivan.
Starring Jessica Hecht and Laura Linney.
Scenic Design by John Lee Beatty; Costume Design by Linda Cho; Lighting Design by Japhy Weideman; Sound Design by Jill BC Du Boff; Production Design by Hana S. Kim; and Original Music by Greg Pliska.
As always, this is just one person’s opinion in a world filled with them.