BWW Reviews: Kristine Nielsen's a Bad Influence in WHAT I DID LAST SUMMER
As coming-of-age warmedies go, What I Did Last Summer, pushes many of the familiar buttons. There's the summer when everything changed, the adolescent rebellion against the family's social norm, the first-time sexual urges, the influential outsider... you know the menu.
And because it was written by A.R. Gurney, growing up is seen through a WASP-eye's view.
But despite some formulaic predictability, Gurney's 1983 play has an arch charm about it and director Jim Simpson's crisply-staged production is well-acted and pleasing.
"This is a play about me," says 14-year-old Charlie (Noah Galvin) at the outset. Other characters have their own opinions on who the play is, or isn't, about.
Indeed, the evening is decidedly presentational, with Michael Yeargan's clean, white set and John Narun's projections giving the impression that we're watch the play being typewritten as it's performed.
It's 1945 and Charlie's dad if off somewhere in the Pacific fighting the Japanese while he spends the summer months with his lonely mom, Grace (Carolyn McCormick), and frustrated older sister (all the boys her age are overseas), Elsie (Kate McGonigle) at the Buffalo family's country house on the Canadian shore of Lake Erie. Between getting into trouble with older boy Ted (Pico Alexander) and feeling pangs for the pretty and precocious Bonny (Juliet Brett), Charlie is expected to bone up on his Latin, after failing the course last semester.
Wanting to earn some money to take Bonny out on a date, he takes a job assisting the local non-conformist townies refer to as "The Pig Woman." Anna (Kristine Nielsen) introduces him to the joys of artistic expression, organic food, socialism, casual co-ed nudity (hinted at, but not seen) and other things those of his social class would find ghastly. When Grace takes notice of Anna's influence on her son, she takes action to bring him back to the advantageous lifestyle expected of him.
While Kristine Nielsen is known for playing delightful eccentrics on New York stages, her oddball style is notably reigned in for this portrayal, making Anna's charms realistically bohemian. She's a pioneer of what the generation born after World War II will champion as a preferred alternative lifestyle. And while Galvin's Charlie is appropriately awkward and sympathetic and McCormick nicely plays Grace's frustration at not knowing how to handle her son's adolescent awakenings, the play never digs deeper than the expected conflicts that pop up in such stories.
Gurney writes up some very funny slice-of-life scenes and the production never fails to entertain, but What I Did Last Summer never pulls you in emotionally.