What I Did Last Summer

One of my goals for this blog is to introduce readers to theaters with reasonable ticket prices.  I have already mentioned the $20 seats at the Claire Tow and also recommend Theater C at 59E59 to those who don’t mind open seating.  A third incredible bargain is The Signature, which has secured enough funding to sell $25 tickets for every seat for every performance.  They also have a valuable residency program, which gives selected playwrights five years to create and produce new works as well as develop old ones.  It’s a terrific opportunity for participants to fully explore and expand their work.

This season, the Signature is featuring A.R. Gurney, best known for Love Letters, The Cocktail Hour, and Sylvia.  The current encore production, What I Did Last Summer, contains Gurney’s typical blend of lighthearted humor with a dash of poignancy.  It primarily follows the activities of teenager Charlie who is spending a few months at Lake Erie near the end of World War II.  His time and attention are divided between his Mother – who wishes him to study Latin – and free spirit Anna Trumbull – who believes he should explore his own creativity through art and play.

Having attended a very progressive school, I found the general discussion of book-learning versus life-learning an intriguing one and Gurney’s observations reasonable and well-argued.  The framework is very self-aware, with much of the action emphasized by having an unseen hand type key words of the dialogue and stage directions on the blank page that makes up the bulk of Michael Yeargan’s set.  All the characters directly address the audience and take every opportunity to make the story about themselves.  This highlights the playful side of the piece even when the action takes a more serious turn.

The cast is uniformly good, with a standout performance by Kristine Nielsen as Anna.  Noah Galvin’s Charlie makes a charming yet slightly bratty host and guide.  The ensemble’s high-energy is skillfully staged by Jim Simpson and backed by percussion provided live on stage by Dan Weiner.  The end results are enjoyable if slightly hazy, rather like summer vacation itself.

What I Did Last Summer is playing at The Pershing Square Signature Theater through June 7.  For tickets and information, visit http://www.signaturetheatre.org/tickets/production.aspx?pid=3776

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