An Indian summer, as a character defines it in Gregory S. Moss’s play, is a time in late August when “ the animals, the birds, even the plants” are “a little stunned that it’s still warm outside.” Although not stunning, Moss’s play “Indian Summer,” about a teen romance at the Rhode Island seashore, is certainly warm, largely thanks to the charming, just-right four-member cast.
Daniel (Owen Campbell), who’s 16, sits on the beach by himself, sulking, having been left by his mother to stay with his grandfather, when 17-year-old Izzy (Elise Kibler) arrives and belligerently demands that Daniel give her the busted green toy bucket he’s idly playing with. It belongs to her brother, she says.
DANIEL: I’m tired of all these people, people like you, walking around leaving their buckets — ABANDONING their buckets on the beach! If this thing was so special to you, if your brother really CARED about it? then he shouldn’t have left it here!
IZZY: He’s six!
DANIEL: All I ever do is give things up, give things up to people like you –
IZZY: “people like me?”
DANIEL: People like YOU who are all BARK BARK BARK. GIMME GIMME GIMME
The mutual hostility escalates, in a quietly hilarious way, and if the exchange seems more likely for characters who are a few years younger, Campbell and Kibler make it work. In a later scene, Izzy comes back with Jeremy (Joe Tippett), her boyfriend, who’s been instructed to punch Daniel. Instead, in keeping with his “spiritual practice” (“a Christian orientated martial art of my own devising”) he motions for Daniel to hug him. But it’s a trick; Jeremy lifts Daniel up and drops him on his back in the sand.
These are the three characters with whom we spend most of the summer in this full-length play, in what develops into a kind of love triangle that’s as sweet, funny, innocent and as apparently free of consequences as their initial confrontations.
Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.
But the playwright alternates the scenes among these characters with scenes, mostly monologues, involving Daniel’s grandfather George (Jonathan Hadary.) George talks about the history of the seashore, and about nature and various other topics — he’s the one who defines Indian summer for us — in what initially seems to be little more than a series of breaks for the other actors in order for them to change into different costumes.
But the play takes something of an odd detour, which I won’t tell you about, even though it wouldn’t really be a spoiler, since it doesn’t derail the central plot of the three younger characters. George, as Daniel explains at one point to Izzy, is bereaved; his wife died, perhaps not long ago. One suspects this has something to do with the elegiac program note by the playwright, which includes the observation:
“There are certain circumstances — love, and the end of love; the deep unfairness of time passing; death and loss; why some people are born into luck, health, and money, and others are not — that resist logical rationalization. Theater provides a place to bear witness to these things. It allows for a gentle, communal acknowledgment of our own powerlessness, as animals caught between social structures, the natural world, and our own mortality. Everyone in the play is looking for a home.”
Gregory Moss sounds a little like George in these dark ruminations. The playwright’s effort to invest his sandy scenes with a profound context doesn’t detract from “Indian Summer,” but it’s the shoal-deep interplay on the beach that most engages us, helped along by Dane Laffrey’s persuasive beach and Eric Southern’s luscious lighting.
“Indian Summer” afforded me an extra pleasure of seeing good actors I’ve seen before (not all time passing is unfair!) — Owen Campbell, who made a memorable impression in the TV series The Americans as the son of two KGB agents who turns out to have killed his entire family; Joe Tippett, whom I last saw in a terrific performance as the clueless well-meaning younger brother in Danai Gurira’s Familiar; Elise Kibler, who was the innocent new office worker in London Wall; Jonathan Hadary, who is one of those matchless stalwarts of the New York stage, whether as the intellectual Jewish neighbor in Golden Boy, or his Tony-nominated performance as Herbie in Gypsy or in the first play in which I saw him perform, some 25 years ago, Terrence McNally’s “Lips Together, Teeth Apart,” another play about lives unfolding one summer on sand.
Written by Gregory S. Moss
Directed by Carolyn Cantor
Scenic Design: Dane Laffrey
Costume Design: Kaye Voyce
Lighting Design: Eric Southern
Sound Design: Stowe Nelson
Production Stage Manager: Kyle Gates
Cast: Owen Campbell — Daniel, Jonathan Hadary — George, Elise Kibler — Izzy, Joe Tippett — Jeremy
Running time: 2 hours and 10 minutes including an intermission
Tickets: $75 to $90
“Indian Summer” is scheduled to run through June 26, 2016