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Summer, 1976

  • Theater
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Jessica Hecht and Laura Linney in Summer, 1976
Photograph: Courtesy Jeremy DanielSummer, 1976

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Broadway review by Adam Feldman 

The anodyne, bittersweet Summer, 1976 seems designed to stir nostalgia among Manhattan Theatre Club’s subscriber base—not just for the 1970s, when most of it takes place, but for MTC itself. The production reunites director Daniel Sullivan with playwright David Auburn, who wrote the company’s 2000 hit Proof, and with the very fine actor Laura Linney, whom he has directed in four previous MTC shows on Broadway; joining them is stage treasure Jessica Hecht, of MTC’s The Assembled Parties. It’s a dramatic dream team; what’s missing is drama. 

The play describes the friendship between two young mothers in Columbus, Ohio, as narrated to us by the women in question many years later. Both are connected to Ohio State University: frustrated artist Diana (Laura Linney) teaches there, and housewife Alice (Jessica Hecht) is married to an economics professor who is working toward tenure. They have daughters of the same age, and are brought together through a babysitting scheme devised by Alice’s husband. Despite their differences—Diana is as neat and sharp as a pin, while Alice is a messier free-spirit type—they form a close bond. “It made me think—I mean, this is obvious now but it seemed like a big revelation at the time, I was young—that people aren't just one thing,” says Alice. 

Summer, 1976 | Photograph: Courtesy Jeremy Daniel

The play has touching moments, and Auburn’s short-storyish writing convincingly evokes a time of one’s life, the late twenties, when a person’s possibilities begin to narrow. But the Summer, 1976’s retrospective structure doesn’t give the actors a chance to show us what they’re missing: the lived experience of their friendship. Seated and facing forward for most of the play, the two women take turns addressing the audience, coloring in the story from separate perspectives without interacting directly. It’s rather like watching an audiobook. 

Although Linney and Hecht are never boring, you may find your mind wandering to details that catch your attention: the raku-pottery shimmer of Japhy Weidman’s lighting on the patterned squares of John Lee Beatty’s set, for instance, or the captivating way that Hecht, with deliberate dreaminess, adds equalized stresses and short e’s into various words (student is stew-dent, stupid is stew-ped, didn’t is did-ent). I don’t regret the 90 minutes I spent at this smoothly rendered memory play. But already, I struggle a bit to remember it. 

Summer, 1976. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Broadway). By David Auburn. Directed by Daniel Sullivan. With Laura Linney, Jessica Hecht. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.

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Summer, 1976 | Photograph: Courtesy Jeremy Daniel

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


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