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A CurtainUp Review
By Charles Wright
Indian summer, rather than being the time of year in which the play is set, is an apt metaphor for the phase of life that George describes in an engaging monologue at the start of the first scene. "I feel like I'm 19 at all hours of the day," George tells us. "Except when I go to pee. Or notice the way in which I am no longer a sexual object in the eyes of the women around me."
George is serving as surrogate parent to step-grandson Daniel (Owen Campbell), whose mother (an off-stage character) has departed for an unknown destination and whose date of return is uncertain. At age 16, Daniel aches to be grown up, but he's also wary of letting childhood go. He's a near relation of Frankie Addams, the protagonist of Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding, who's searching for the "we of me."
Set on a stretch of Rhode Island beach, Indian Summer unfolds as a realistic coming-of-age romance, featuring Daniel and a neighbor, Izzy (Elise Kibler), as teen-aged versions of Benedick and Beatrice. The play's fourth character, Izzy's dumb and hunky boyfriend, Jeremy (Joe Tippett), is on hand to interfere with the developing chemistry between the pair.
In the course of its two-or-so hours, Indian Summer shakes off the shackles of realism to become a slightly surreal study of loneliness and longing in both youth and advanced age. In the end, however, the play is as much about love — familial, platonic and, of course, romantic — as it is about longing and loneliness. It's touching without being sentimental. And what's surprising is how the playwright keeps modifying his dramaturgical course throughout the evening, tacking from one style to another, with shifting moods that ought to be disorienting but turn out to be emotionally satisfying.
The cast of four, directed by Carolyn Cantor, assists the playwright by lending a stylistic consistency to his blend of naturalism and gentle absurdist wit. Though most of the action happens in the scenes among the three young people, Hadary's George is the spine of the text and the heart of the story. In his one extended scene with Ms. Kibler, he converses with his dead wife, who is impersonated — or, perhaps, channeled — by the initially reluctant Izzy. This scene, which is unlike any other part of the play, is unsettling at first; but, after a few beats, it takes on a poignant beauty, due partly to Moss's lyrical writing but also because of the authenticity of the two actors' performances.
Scenic designer Dane Laffrey has situated Indian Summer in an environment that's more or less realistic yet every bit as whimsical as Moss's script. The stage is covered with a great mound of bright, clean sand (an inviting sight at the beginning of summer). Stowe Nelson's sound design brings the ocean right up to the edge of the playing area. Eric Southern's complex lighting design keeps the sky above the beach and the horizon beyond changing throughout each scene. Southern's varied hues indicate the time of day (or night) and the progress of the season; and they reflect in subtle ways the intricate mood changes in the text.
The aggregate effect of the designers' work is sense-filling and evocative of what's most pleasurable to remember about past summers. The same, in fact, may be said for Moss's play and the production as a whole.