Earlier this year, I lamented that prices for Broadway shows had ballooned far beyond reasonable, to the tune of $350. Not for a pair of seats, but for each one. Fortunately, planning three months ahead allowed us to acquire tickets for far less, so last week Martha and I went to see a few.
First up was “Summer, 1976,” by David Auburn, who also wrote “The Columnist” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Proof.”
In the early days of my daughter’s life my wife wasn’t working outside the house, but became friendly with other mothers of small children. Since that was their only connection, most of those friendships have faded away, but a few still endure. That’s the case with Diana (Laura Linney) and Alice (Jessica Hecht), who didn’t like each other when they first met in the summer of 1976 through a babysitting co-op. Diana was an artist, teacher, and single mom, while Alice was a stay-at-home mother married to an economics professor at Ohio State University.
Nonetheless, the two women bonded and formed a friendship, the particulars of which they share with the audience, each woman taking her turn telling the story and offering different perspectives on high and low points in their relationship.
Linney, whose work I’ve long admired, gives Diana an arrogance she uses as a shield to keep anyone from getting too close. Hecht, meanwhile, assumes a flat midwestern accent and portrays Alice as a flighty free spirit whose house is always a mess — which thoroughly irritates Diana. Both actresses give superb performances as they reveal the layers of their characters’ lives, both shared and unshared, painting a portrait full of warmth and closeness, but also jealousies and secrets.
Daniel Sullivan, who has directed all three of Auburn’s plays, gives his stars plenty of room to work, although most of it is done sitting in chairs several feet apart around a large table. The set design by John Lee Beatty and lighting by Japhy Weideman enhance the setting as seasons pass (look at those lightning bugs!) and locales change (from a front porch to an art gallery). Auburn’s script is dense with details and occasional laughs, giving both actresses opportunities to shine. It’s entirely their show, and they more than make the most of it.
“Summer, 1976” opened in April, but only for a limited run which will end this Sunday. That’s too bad, because despite Linney and Hecht being formidable talents, there must be other top-notch actresses who could step in to play these roles. Nonetheless, I’m glad we got to see these stars at the top of their game in a piece worthy of their talents.
“Summer, 1976” is one of the best plays I’ve seen in a long time, so I’m giving it a 10 out of 10.