Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 4, 2020

Indian Summer garners praise for two-week run

By EMILY WHITNEY | November 15, 2018

Indian Summer, Gregory S. Moss’ play, opens on a beach setting to soft sounds of birds and the ocean in the background. The mid-July Rhode Island beach is slowly populated. The first person there is Daniel (played by junior Sebastian Durfee), a teen dropped at his grandparents’ house by his wayward mother for the summer. Bored and nervous about his mother’s delayed return, his summer takes a turn when he meets Izzy (played by senior Rachel Underweiser), a brash, Rhode-Island accented local. The pair’s feisty first encounters develop into an unlikely relationship that softens into something the audience can’t help but root for.

John Astin guest stars as George, the beachcombing grandfather, who grieves the loss of his partner and frames the play with his meditations on the ocean. He tells a story of how a man in a crab shack once told him how the waves of the ocean said one thing only: “Fuck you mortal.”

George’s existential late-life musings work well in contrast with the emotional struggles of the younger characters who experience their awkward first brushes with romantic love and soon recognize the fragility of their relationships and the frustrating lack of control they have over their lives. 

The production’s greatest strength lies in the cast’s powerfully understated performances. Astin is wonderfully sensitive in his portrayal of the well-meaning grandfather, George, who is preoccupied with memories of his younger self. His disconnect from the teenage cast is calculated, and he steps aside to let them shine.

Durfee sells Daniel as a gawky, self-aware boy who is coy to a fault and sweet in his developed affection for Izzy. Underweiser is magnetic as Izzy: funny, shockingly smart and ultimately the charming heart of the production. Izzy’s boyfriend, as played by senior David Gumino, is the goofiest of the bunch and also the funniest – hilarious in his unpredictability. He’s meat-headed but also earnest. The connections on stage felt natural and at first almost cartoonish in their intensity, such as when Izzy comes in swinging, looking for her brother’s bucket. But as the play progressed in its unassuming, subtle way, they built into something resonating and soulful. 

The play also owes something to its technical director, Michael Vincent. The sandy beach, soft wash of muted blue and hollow breezy sounds make for a setting that is both warm and desolate, mirroring the fading charm of an “Indian summer.”

The production ran from Nov. 2 to Nov. 11 and garnered a standing ovation all five nights. Peg Denithorne, the director, said she wasn’t at all surprised it went over so well. “These are wildly talented students. We could not have asked for a better cast,” she said in an interview with The News-Letter.

It was Denithorne who found the play and immediately noticed it’d be a great fit for the John Astin Theatre program. “I was looking for plays that had good roles for young people,” she said. “This play had these three wonderful roles and this great old geezer. And I thought, well, we have the students, and we have the geezer. Let’s do it!”

Durfee commented on Denithorne’s skill as a director. “Peg was able to guide everyone in a direction that made the show much subtler in its beauty and message as opposed to being too in your face. Everyone in the cast was very talented from the first day, but the outcome was very different from where it started.”

As for working with John Astin, Durfee found it to be quite the experience. “I never thought I’d be acting alongside him when coming to Hopkins. He’s phenomenal at what he does, and it’s incredible to experience such a talented actor share a scene with you. And then you go backstage, and he’s equal in the dressing room. It’s an out of body experience. I have no words.” Durfee, a student of the theater program, has also acted under Astin’s direction. “It’s the other side of the coin that you don’t see as a director.” 

The cast and crew discussed what they thought the audience should take away. Astin noted, “It has a universal aspect to it. It appreciates the fleeting nature of human existence. We have a certain amount of control or responsibility to try to keep the earth functioning rather than destroy it. There’s an ecological element all through this play. Especially with George.” Denithorne agreed about the play's universality, saying, “We’ve all had that. Like, oh, that relationship would be perfect, just not now. Or it’s right for this minute, but it’s not going to be right down the line. It’s also about those specific moments in life,” she added. 

Durfee also pointed out how these moments in the play can add up to something greater. “It’s such a beautiful story, and it doesn’t turn out the way you expect, and that’s okay. The ending doesn’t have to be perfect because the middle was beautiful.”

Although the play’s run has finished for this season, it might be returning to the John Astin Theater sometime in the future. “We may find that we’re doing it again sometime,” Astin said. “It’s such a good play, as long as Peg is willing.”

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