Beach Blues: ‘Indian Summer’ Is a Little Washed Up


A green plastic beach toy languishes among the Rhode Island dunes where Gregory S. Moss sets his new play, Indian Summer. It’s a bucket with no bottom — good for corralling sand into castle turrets, bad for transporting anything anywhere. And somehow, it feels like a metaphor for the whole play: bright and summery, but missing a crucial piece. In Carolyn Cantor’s engaging production, currently at Playwrights Horizons, Indian Summer is an enjoyable but slight chronicle of young love and elderly angst.

Daniel (Owen Campbell) is a gawky teen vacationing at the seashore under the loose supervision of his grandfather while his mother conducts unspecified business elsewhere (everything in his life, he explains, is “provisional”). Enter local high schooler Izzy (Elise Kibler): brash, scornful of summer folk, confident in her hip-hugging cutoffs and Rhode Island–Italian accent. Instinctive mutual suspicion emerges: She mocks his crocheting hobby and multisyllabic words, and he defends himself against the prejudices that summer status brings. Soon enough the unlikely pair grow fond of each other, as Daniel offers Izzy a glimpse of a wider world beyond Rhode
Island — and her friendship instills newfound confidence in him. Plus, there’s the blossoming romantic chemistry that only a surfside all-nighter can inspire. All this is bad news for Izzy’s boyfriend, Jeremy (Joe Tippett), a sweetly uncomplicated jock type who’s banking on keeping Izzy for life.

A second, thinner plotline concerns Daniel’s grandfather, George (Jonathan Hadary), a local beachcomber grieving his wife’s death and contemplating his own. At intervals, he enters to offer direct
addresses on the subjects of, for instance, local wildlife or weather patterns. Late in the play, in an odd turn of events, he convinces Izzy to try on his wife’s frilly dress and participate in a role-play scenario, telling him from beyond the grave about the experience of dying. Improbably, Izzy begins to live the part, turning deeply
reflective as, at one point, she offers up a poetic meditation on drowning.

The strangeness of this existential scene points to the larger fault lines crisscrossing the play. Moss seems to want his Rhode Island locals — Izzy, Jeremy, George — to serve as paragons of authenticity, working-class repositories of truth, honesty, and personal depth. In doing so, he risks condescending to them, suggesting that it might be news to us that meatheads have feelings or that intelligence and privilege are not necessarily aligned. The problem is gendered, too: Izzy, sweet and strong, becomes a kind of all-purpose representative of femininity, playing whatever role each of the male characters needs for his own emotional growth.

Despite all this, Indian Summer is
enjoyable to watch. Moss’s characters
are endearingly familiar, his banter is crisply composed, and it’s hard not to root for Daniel and Izzy’s short-lived, mismatched friendship. In the play’s most poignant scene, Izzy and Daniel fantasize about running into each other on some distant future day: all grown up, with entirely different lives shaped by economics, geography, and family circumstance.
Soberly, they script and rehearse their
future encounter, imagining the present
as if it were already a memory. In such
exchanges, it’s easy to sense why these characters — their young age, their big feelings — made appealing subjects for Moss. If only these thoughtful, understated moments made up the entire play.

Indian Summer
Directed by Carolyn Cantor
Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd Street