June 18, 2016

Why "Indian Summer" is Kind of a Bummer

Joe Tippett is a terrific actor. He's particularly good at mining humor when playing "bros" and other kinds of macho guys. But he's also great at revealing how his characters want to be more than stereotypical meatheads. The chance to watch him do the latter is the only reason to see Indian Summer, the soggy dramedy that's running at Playwrights Horizons through next weekend.

Gregory S. Moss, making his New York debut, says he wrote the play as a love letter to Rhode Island (click here to read more about what he had to say) but he has set it in a seaside community and set up a divisive line between the wealthy summer people who keep vacation houses there and the blue-collar townspeople who live in the community year-round.

Hovering somewhere in between is Daniel, a bookish, insecure 16-year-old whose single mom has left him with his recently widowed grandfather and hasn't said when, or even if, she'll return. Lonely, Daniel strikes up a friendship with Izzy, a townie with a potty-mouth plenty of attitude and a muscle-bound boyfriend named Jeremy.

You see where this is supposed to go. Izzy will bring Daniel out of his shell. Daniel will play Pygmalion to her brash Galatea. Smiles will ensue. But things don't quite work out that way for the characters—or for me.

A few parts of Indian Summer do work. Elise Kibler makes a feisty and attractive Izzy. Owen Campbell is sweetly awkward as Daniel. And the energy level soars whenever Tippett's Jeremy appears.

But most of the humor is derived from Izzy and Jeremy's working-class accents or their social ineptness. And I felt uncomfortable sitting in a room full of people affluent enough to enjoy a night out at the theater who were spending it laughing at people who wouldn't have the money or sophistication to do so.

Moreover, at least as directed by Carolyn Cantor, I also found it hard to believe in the connection between Daniel and Izzy. The play gives them nothing in common and no real reason to strike up even a conversation, less than a romance.  Besides, who wouldn't want to go off with the more entertaining Jeremy?

Indian Summer even trips over its own internal logic. One minute Izzy doesn't know what the word "provisional" means; the next minute she's calling herself an "autodidact" and spouting off philosophical observations about the nature of life.

 A subplot detailing the grandfather's grief is nicely realized by the always-reliable Jonathan Hadary but also seems to have drifted in from some other play.

And yet audience seemed to love the show the night I saw it. The younger members were particularly tickled, including the cargo-shorts-wearing bro at the end of my row, who brought a beer back to his seat after intermission and guffawed whenever Izzy or Jeremy uttered a malapropism. Which distressed me even more.

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