Pleasant Reminiscing in SUMMER, 1976 — Review
Diana, a university art teacher and single mother in Ohio, is the kind of constantly-on intellectual for whom things are jejune and lugubrious; Alice, a professor’s wife, wears boho sundresses and is generally along for the ride. They meet through their young daughters and strike up a friendship which, try as playwright David Auburn might, is not as unconventional or unlikely as any other. Alice whips out a joint on their first encounter, hoping to shock her pedantic counterpart, but is surprised to learn of Diana’s carefree art school days.
Such are the bulk of the memories in Summer, 1976, a breezy 90 minutes of porch time with Laura Linney (Diana) and Jessica Hecht (Alice), who sit on opposite sides of a table throughout most of Manhattan Theatre Club’s relaxed production. Things pick up, of course, as Japhy Weideman’s lights and Hana S. Kim’s projections brighten and darken as the fateful summer goes on: Diana struggles with her dashed dreams of being an artist, Alice’s marriage hits a rough patch. Life.
Director Daniel Sullivan balances the calm and the stormy nicely, and Auburn has some fun with the form of the work, with the two women sometimes addressing the performative nature of their dialogue, asking each other to play different roles and wondering aloud which parts of the story matter most.
But Linney and Hecht’s confident, vulnerable-lite performances are the reasons to come, and the two stage veterans embrace the audience with their affable warmth and charm. They, too, find variations in their similarities— when both are seated, with their legs crossed and hands folded on their laps, notice how differently they enact these simple positions.
It’s not a rollercoaster of emotion, but Summer, 1976 builds up to a moving statement on the passage of time and those who come across our voyages, however quickly or unexpectedly, that caught me off-guard. The production effectively captures the bittersweet ennui of summer, and makes for a gentle, lightly stirring Saturday afternoon.
Summer, 1976 is in performance through June 10, 2023 at the Friedman Theatre on West 47th Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.