By Brian Scott Lipton
Love lost, love unexpressed, love misdirected, love unrequited; the vagaries of the most human of emotions slowly come to the fore in Gregory S. Moss’ deceptively bittersweet comedy Indian Summer, now premiering at Playwrights Horizons under the thoughtful direction of Carolyn Cantor. Living up to its title, this two-act, slice-of-life play set on a Rhode Island beach (brilliantly created with tons of sand by set designer Dane Laffrey) basks us in its warmth for a while, before leaving us somewhat unexpectedly with a slight chill in our bones.
The depth of what’s to come is hardly evident in the play’s meet-cute rom-com beginnings. Angry, socially backwards loner Daniel (an effective Owen Campbell) has been temporarily abandoned by his mother and sent to live for the summer with his well-meaning, somewhat eccentric grandfather George (a deliciously wry and vaguely melancholy Jonathan Hadary). One early morning, he encounters local girl Izzy Rizzo (the superb Elise Kibler), a tough-talking, 17-year-old Sicilian who appears to have walked out of The Sopranos, and the two scuffle (admittedly unconvincingly) about the pail left on the beach by Izzy’s younger brother.
Although the pair would seem to have nothing in common – other than having way too much time on their hands – they eventually bond as Izzy’s layers unfold in an onion-like matter, including a surprising thirst for learning (she teaches herself certain vocabulary words like autodidact) and a strong desire to escape her surroundings. There’s a particularly beautiful section of the play, which concludes the first act, where Izzy confides in Daniel her desire to live “somewhere else” (though she specifically has Hawaii in mind; it’s clear anything but Rhode Island will do) and we realize how trapped she truly feels.
What stands in her way, along with her unwillingness to fully let down her guard to Daniel (and vice verse), is the presence of her 27-year-old bohunk boyfriend Jeremy (portrayed to perfection by the heavily muscled Joe Tippett). A basically sweet-natured, none-too-bright guy who is nonetheless smart enough to realize that Izzy is his best chance for a satisfying future, Jeremy does whatever he can to claim his territory short of actually marking a circle around her.
Tippett has the most physical role (and few in the audience, of either gender, will probably object to his shirtless scene). But it’s Kibler, who reminds me of a young Annabella Sciorra, who has to do the play’s heaviest lifting, including a somewhat strange yet ultimately touching scene in which George asks her to not only don his late wife’s dress, but “impersonate” her for a brief conversation. In this interaction, and a few others, Izzy unveils a poetic streak and a surprising command of language that doesn’t always seem true to her character, but Kibler pulls off whatever Moss hands to her with aplomb.
Despite its setting, the events that unfold in Indian Summer turn out not to be the proverbial “day at the beach” — for either its characters or the audience. But it’s definitely worth making the trip.
Indian Summer continues at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42 Street) through June 26. Call (212) 279-4200 for tickets. Photos: Joan Marcus