- OnStage New York Columnist
- Twitter: @timmingto
I'd barely begun reading the playwright's note when I wondered how the show would end. Would it be the classic boy meets girl, falls in love and summer romance and la la la Judy Blume or would playwright Gregory Moss subvert it, tipping what we've come to expect from stories such as these on their sides? Ultimately, the resolution he gives us is exactly right. We get a sweet, thoughtful, relatable play about four people looking for home.
"All love is unrequited love," says George, the narrator and only non-teenage character in this play. We meet George immediately, as he directly addresses the audience--a device I thought I'd hate, but quickly came to love because I quickly came to love George. A widower with naked, gnarled feet, ratty clothes and carrying a coffee mug he inspects the ocean at sunrise just inches away from the front row of the tiny theatre at Playwright's Horizons. With this action he invites us into the world of the play in what could be a cliched way, but here is anything but.
We're starting to really invest in George with his idiosyncratic, charming opening monologue whenDaniel interrupts. Daniel has been onstage this entire time, in fact, Daniel first appears as the house lights go down and the stage lights, up--a device I love. He exists in silence a while until he plops down and moves through a comical bit taking off his Converse sneakers and emptying boatloads of sand in the standard 1-2-3 punch format.
Daniel is staying with George, his mother's stepfather, while his mother is off "finishing some things up" a topic we revisit occasionally but never really learn more about. Daniel is summer people, as Izzy will soon remind him. Izzy barrels on stage strutting and commanding and with an absolutely magnetic presence. Her energy and insane talent spark the play into action.
Izzy encounters Daniel in a battle of wits stemming from an argument over a broken sand bucket. The two spar back and forth with an energy that only extraordinarily talented, young actors playing well-written characters can do. There's an immediate investment in Izzy, Daniel and the relationship that's bound to develop, though I often felt that Daniel's character was underwritten in comparison. Izzy is such a strong, dominant force that we needed Daniel's character to meet her, or at least contrast her, which unfortunately never came to fruition throughout the course of this otherwise impeccable play.
In fact, Daniel's character is the least developed of all four characters. Jeremy, our resident villain and comically ridiculous foil, is as richly developed and dimensional as Izzy. George roots in our hearts from the beginning and slays us by the end--his final scenes and monologues brought me to tears. It's Daniel, the Romeo to our Juliet that fell flat for me. I always wondered what else there was to him besides being the outsider, because he was literally and figuratively the outsider against this tremendous cast of characters.
That said, these young actors were superb. I had an immediate reaction to each and every one and as an ensemble they couldn't have worked better together, especially under the brilliant direction of Carolyn Cantor. I recognized Daniel as one of the many boys I loved in my youth--skinny, nerdy, gawky and awkward with the slightest hint of "is he gay?" Izzy hit me like a ton of bricks with her posturing and peacock-ing. I instantly loved and hated her as she appeared in a crop top and super cutoffs with an enviable figure and impressive diaphragmatic breathing. I recognized her as one of the girls in my youth that I would have been both jealous and terrified of. Jeremy was as bro as bros' get but revealed over the course of the play to be a gentle, funny almost pathetic character that had you halfway rooting for him to get the girl.
Indian Summer is the type of play I was desperate to be cast in during my undergraduate years of theatre training. It's the type of play that touches the truth and awkwardness of adolescence and breathes life into rich characters. It's a play suited to young, hungry actors eager to dive into rich characters. Izzy's monologue at the very end, as she connects with George, brings her character arc to a height I wasn't sure she'd reach, but she did. George grounds a teenage love story with an eccentric profundity that comes with age, experience and loss. Jeremy is funny as hell and Daniel, well Daniel is a boy that many of us can remember loving at one point in our young lives.
I predict Indian Summer will become a staple in college theatre departments. Izzy's monologue will be the hottest pick for young actresses eager to show range, chops and talent in two minutes. And Gregory Moss will find his rightful place amongst the best new playwrights' of our time.
Moss says in the playwright's note that Indian Summer is a love letter to Rhode Island. But it's much more than that. It's a love letter to the fleeting moments in life that we want desperately to hold on to but can't. It's a love letter to the part of ourselves that we know we're not brave enough to touch in this lifetime.
It's a love letter to the romances we've all had that have ended long before we stopped loving. And while Indian Summer itself takes up just a moment of time in the lives of its audience, the impact it will have can best be described with some of George's last lines:
--that margin of sun-lit warmth after the end of August that always feels exceptional, like a pocket of unexpected time, a little reprieve between seasons, in which things people lives and stories are given the chance to collect themselves to reconfigure and, possibly, to CHANGE where one finds oneself invited, by God, or Nature or the whims of climate, to merely enjoy the surprise of it...
It will be no surprise when this play finds a place on college campuses, in the hands of passionate, young actors and finally in the hearts of the lucky audiences who get to experience the beautiful, fleeting moments of Indian Summer.