Set on a tiny strip of Rhode Island beach, Indian Summer first introduces George (played by Jonathan Hadary), the warm, slightly curmudgeonly step-granddad to young Daniel (Owen Campbell) who has been left in his charge during a sultry, boring summer. Daniel’s mother, George’s step-daughter, didn’t tell him when she was returning to retrieve her son, so Daniel spends his days languishing on the beach. His uneasy idyll is interrupted by local Italian-American teen, Izzy (Elise Kibler), who fancies herself a tough chick who “owns” the beach. Her brazen behavior is enforced by her relationship with local “guido,” Jeremy (Joe Tippett), her muscular, seemingly dumb, boyfriend. Jeremy and Izzy use the local jargon, but are clearly smarter than they appear despite their tough cookie exteriors.
George narrates the play with his fourth-wall-breaking monologues which range from raunchy vignettes to musings about the nature and pain of life in general. He talks about the waves, the seagulls, his late wife, at the same time trying to get Daniel to get involved with local events, tempting him with promises of ice cream and local dances.
It’s Izzy, however, who inadvertently pulls Daniel out of his doldrums, challenging him to make his stand for his little patch of beach, all the while falling for each other. This colorful, profane young lady and the white bread brooding youth clearly become smitten with each other. She is, however, about to become engaged to Jeremy, ten years her senior, who holds all the stereotypical working class Italian-American ideals of defending his lady and his turf from the incursions of the “summer people,” leading to several humorous confrontations.
In one well-written, well-observed conversation after another, the three younger characters reveal depths well beyond their superficial gender and class limitations. With breathtaking skill, Moss makes us understand how the currents of budding sexual desire, class loyalty, and pressures of time force these kids, observed by the wise and troubled George, to come to the life-changing decisions they make by the end of Indian Summer. Characters who begin as annoying caricatures magically, almost imperceptively, become fascinating people with doubts, hopes and, sadly, the knowledge that they are limited by their upbringing from which they are powerless to break free.
Daniel lowers his protective wall even when Izzy catches him crocheting. She teases him, but he stands his ground, eliciting her grudging respect. George gifts Izzy one of his late wife’s garments which somehow changes her, too, bringing out her feminine side. Daniel’s incursion into his relationship with Izzy forces Jeremy to regard her as more than his squeeze: So many changes over the course of a summer, ending with the eponymous Indian Summer which brings each character to a new adventure in life and, in the case of one, a foreboding.
The acting is superb throughout, with special praise for Hadary’s ability to spin his homespun philosophy and yarns into fascinating moments.
The realistic beach set by Dane Laffrey and the character-perfect costumes of Kaye Voyce helped Moss tell his story, as did the splendid moody lighting by Eric Southern.
Carolyn Cantor’s direction subtly shaped Moss’ words into a moody, satisfying portrait despite the sudden shifts from reality to fantasy.
Indian Summer (through June 26, 2016)
MainStage Theater, 416 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.PHny.org
Running time: two hours, including on intermission