Gregory S. Moss’s Indian Summer, which closes out the season at Playwrights Horizons, has a lot going for it in terms of punchy, idiomatic dialogue and regional specificity. Moss makes tangy use of his Rhode Island beach setting, and it is clear that he is very taken with his four characters, letting them bust loose with lots of heady speechifying. The play gets unwieldy sometimes and would benefit from some editing and compression, but it has so much charm that these flaws are finally minor matters.
Daniel (Owen Campbell) is a brainy, sheltered sixteen-year-old boy staying with his widowed grandfather George (Jonathan Hadary), who at first seems like a beach bum in his sloppy T-shirt. Daniel has been parked with George for the summer by his mother, who is bringing her son up by fits and starts, and the main drama of Indian Summer is the relationship that develops between Daniel and a tough lower-class Italian girl named Izzy Rizzo (Elise Kibler).
Kibler has the most difficult role here because she has to convince us that she is both a scrappy product of her milieu and also someone who might want to rise out of it. She gets the swagger of the part, often suggesting Stockard Channing’s tart-tongued Betty Rizzo in Grease (1978), who is maybe her creative namesake, but Kibler is also up to the demands of two very intense lyric monologues. Izzy talks to Daniel about how she might have been royalty if she had been born in Hawaii, and then she has a far more difficult speech about what death might be like.
Moss sometimes lets his characters talk a little too much, but both Kibler and Joe Tippett, who plays Izzy’s lunkhead boyfriend Jeremy, have been encouraged by director Carolyn Cantor to physicalize their roles in amusingly heightened ways that often take the burden off some of the chattiness of the play. Kibler and Tibbett are both a little mannered here sometimes, but in the theater such outsized acting can be allowed as long as it is emotionally truthful and in good fun. Tippett’s Jeremy is a full-blooded, original comic creation, a dumb guy who is bursting with high-energy ideas about life from his own testosterone-fueled perspective.
There comes a point in Indian Summer when Moss might have tightened the screws of his narrative. He could have shown us some different and darker sides of Jeremy, or given us some more information about the parents of these people and their home life. (Does Izzy have a repressive mother and is that why she talks so much about Stephen King’s Carrie?) As it is, the ending to the play doesn’t quite have the power that it should have, mainly because we can’t be sure what Izzy wants from life. But she isn’t sure either, of course, because she’s only seventeen years old. And it is easy to love her and the three other characters here just as evidently as Moss does.
photo by Joan Marcus