(L-R) Laura Linney,
Jessica Hecht (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)
short-lived friendships can stay with us for a lifetime.
the premise behind Summer, 1976, now at the Samuel Friedman Theater. It
stars two veteran stage actors — Tony-nominated Jessica Hecht and Laura Linney
— at the top of their game.
chemistry is palpable as they look back, 25 years later, on their intimacies,
conflicts and regrets. David Auburn’s play underscores how something time-framed,
a relationship forged during a fateful bicentennial summer, can stay with you,
even when people drift away.
minimalistic set by John Lee Beatty and beautiful lighting by Japhy Weideman highlights
the women’s emotions, both subtle and stirring.
and Hecht begin the play by walking onto the stage and taking a seat. The move
is deceptively simple. Still waters run deep. Summer, 1976 is a potent
reminder that what appears as ordinary is often something more — and it holds
our attention for 90 nonstop minutes.
action, as the title suggests, begins for a brief period in the summer of 1976.
Diana (Linney) teaches art at Ohio State, while Alice (Hecht) is the wife of an
economics professor up for tenure. Trapped in a rather insular community, they meet
as a result of their 5-year-old daughters, who instantly bond.
the women aren’t initially enamored of each other. Tightly wound Diana finds
the too-casual Alice trapped in a conventional marriage, disdainful of her
middle-brow reading tastes.
“She just thought she was unconventional because her house was messy,” says the
spirit Alice is acutely aware of Diana’s affectations — the kind of person who
drops words like “jejune” into casual conversation — and her emphasis on
an exterior life. But she’s also sensitive to Diana’s loneliness as a single
mom and her inner artistic longings.
two discover that despite their differences, they share and appreciate each
other. Paul Klee’s paintings even rate a mention.
two-hander explores the trials of motherhood and companionship. And it
addresses both the joy and occasional fear of learning, as Alice does, that “people
are not one thing.”
forged as young mothers can sometimes be expedient. Here, what appears as an
unlikely union is quickly revealed as a profound connection. While Diana is memorable
in her brief, but powerful appraisal of sexual allure, it’s worth noting that
the strongest bond, however brief, is theirs.
connection, far stronger than Alice’s with her husband, the unseen Doug, explores
the tricky terrain of friendship.
a delicate dance of knowing when to push, when to retreat, and how to navigate
in those seconds when something goes inexplicably wrong. Summer, 1976 is
a meditation on how fragile circumstances can be. And how contradictions and
missteps, rarely apparent in the moment, can alter our lives.
makes a play with only a few big moments so noteworthy is that the playwright
doesn’t succumb to cliches or melodrama. There is also a relatable hint of
fantasy and wistfulness.
Daniel Sullivan is working with actresses who, with a turn of a head or a
change in tone, can command our attention. Quiet and unassuming, Summer,
1976 is a welcomed addition to the season.
- Samuel J. Friedman Theater, 261 W. 47 St.
time: 90 minutes, no intermission.