Theater Review: ‘Indian Summer’

A warm spell that never deepens
June 13, 2016 Updated: June 13, 2016

NEW YORK—A tantalizing set greets us on the stage of Playwrights Horizons: It is an enormous sand dune, representing a warm beach somewhere in Rhode Island, which will be home for four characters in Gregory S. Moss’s new play, “Indian Summer.”

Sixteen-year-old Daniel (Owen Campbell) is a temporary transplant from an unnamed “big city” (Providence no doubt, certainly a fitting choice for this play). He passes a boring time while waiting for his mother, off somewhere “taking care of things,” to pick him up in approximately two months’ time.

Daniel is in the care of his grandfather George (Jonathan Hadary), a somewhat tetchy but caring man who is grieving for his recently deceased wife.

Onto the scene strolls Izzy Rizzo (Elise Kibler), a local 17-year-old girl, who almost immediately tangles with Daniel. Daniel has taken over a toy pail that Izzy claims belongs to and is the favorite toy of her 6-year-old brother.

On principle she has it in for “summer people,” assuming Daniel is one. She, a proud Sicilian, feels the territory belongs to her and her family. Later comments by George indicate the Rizzos are “low-class” and not worth dealing with. He later changes his opinion.

But what started as dislike between the two young people grows into a mutual attraction. Izzy admires Daniel’s intellectual attainments; she shows herself to be intellectually curious, looking up definitions for new (to her) words Daniel has spoken.

She later dreamily and somewhat poetically speaks of her desire to expand her world by going to someplace like Hawaii, for example.

A fly in the ointment appears in the person of Izzy’s energetic boyfriend Jeremy (Joe Tippett). Strong as the proverbial ox, he’s all over the place and almost physically overpowers Daniel, mostly to impress Izzy with his prowess.

Jeremy doesn’t have too much going for him and is the kind to remain where he’s been born and raised. He’ll probably end up as a big fish in a little pond.

George (Jonathan Hadary) acts as a philosophic commentator at times in
George (Jonathan Hadary) acts as a philosophic commentator at times in “Indian Summer.” (Joan Marcus)

Interspersed between the young set’s activities are remarks—monologues, to be exact—spoken directly to the audience by George. These include philosophical remarks about life and about the weather: the tides, seasons, latitudes and longitudes, and so on. The effect carried inklings of the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” and seemed a bit out of place.

Why is George saying these things, I wondered. Is the playwright trying to inject a sense of universality into the proceedings? Whatever the reason, the lines seemed artificially driven rather than an organic outgrowth.

Jeremy, hulk though he is, doesn’t feel good about himself. His same-age friends have passed him by; most are married, have families. He’s fearful of losing out on Izzy, now that he senses her interest in Daniel and in expanding her horizons, something he, Jeremy, can’t offer her.

Izzy's boyfriend Jeremy (Joe Tippett) physically overpowers Daniel (Owen Campbell), yet ironically, Jeremy feels threatened by Daniel. (Joan Marcus)
Izzy’s boyfriend Jeremy (Joe Tippett) physically overpowers Daniel (Owen Campbell), yet ironically, Jeremy feels threatened by Daniel. (Joan Marcus)

Jeremy calls on Daniel to help him by staying away from Izzy and not cramping Jeremy’s style. Oddly, Daniel agrees. Why would he, inasmuch as he has feelings for Izzy too. Or maybe he doesn’t know it yet. Or, is he really so noble?

It’s not made clear, and a later pivotal and poignant scene between Daniel and Izzy doesn’t help much. She has finally decided to accept Jeremy’s proposal; he can offer her security and consistent support and would never hurt her.

But Daniel is hurt. Why would Izzy accept Jeremy? She counters: Why did Daniel help his competition?

Perhaps it’s just a case of ships that pass in the night and just don’t connect. After all, although there’s only one year’s difference in their ages—Daniel, 16, is still an adolescent boy, wanting his mother (who finally shows up, offstage); Izzy, 17, is already a young woman, making tangible plans for her future.

And Daniel has a tough time expressing his feelings of committing himself. He probably just needs more time and may learn to polish off those edges of introversion that may be interfering with his success thus far.

Although not always clear, the play does have some lovely moments, supported by the aforementioned production elements and the fine cast. There’s Owen Campbell’s sensitive Daniel, and Elise Kibler’s alternately feisty and dreamy Izzy.

Joe Tippett’s Jeremy, though brimming with enthusiasm, is a bit over the top at times and could use some toning down. Less might prove more for him.

Jonathan Hadary, offering a mature outlook, does nicely in keeping the ship on an even keel.

Director Carolyn Cantor has done a fine job of coordinating all the elements and keeping the pacing moving along smoothly. And the inviting set is courtesy of set designer Dane Laffrey, with Eric Southern designing the lighting. 

Is the play a coming-of-age story, or is it a love triangle? Possibly something of each, which may make it both puzzling and intriguing.

‘Indian Summer’
Playwrights Horizons
416 W. 42nd St.
Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes (one intermission)
Tickets: 212-279-4200 or TicketCentral.com
Closes: June 26

Diana Barth writes on the arts for various publications, including New Millennium. She may be contacted at diabarth@juno.com

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