Regional Reviews: New Jersey
The Summer House Introduces Talented New Playwright
Also see Bob's review of You Miss Them When They're Not Around
The set-up is not unusual. Twenty-six-year-old graphic artist Kennedy Sommers is bringing her fiancé Chip home to her parents' Manhattan apartment to meet them. Chip, whose mother died giving birth to him, was raised in foster care. Her parents, Bill and Sandy, are a very prosperous black couple. Chip, who is white, stands to get quite a leg up both socially and financially. Bill seems quite the nice guy, and he puts up with a lot of verbal abuse from the discontented Sandy, who is snobbish and domineering ("I was a professionally trained singer ... we gave up our dreams and we got the land of the ordinarywith a hedge fund" / "I'm sure there are (other nice places to live in besides New York City), but I haven't seen any)."
The upshot is that the virginal and sexually fearful Kennedy, who is clearly her "daddy's girl," gets both Chip and her parents to agree that all four will spend the young couple's honeymoon together at the Sommers' gorgeous 12-room, 22-acre lake summer house.
Some will have sensed that there is something very wrong and disturbing afoot by now. When the odd foursome (and the play) arrive at the summer house, Kain nicely drops in several hints relating to Kennedy's behavior that will leave no one in doubt about this. It would be unfair to reveal any further plot about The Summer House with specificity. Part of the fun is guessing the direction which this mystery thriller is going to take. (I thought about here that Kain was going to hijack the central plot device of Ira Levin's play Veronica's Room, but I was wrong.)
What can be said is that behavior is linked to character, relationships and motivations. Each of the four characters is complex, and seen in varying shades of grey. The plot does take quite a lurid turn, but the turn is theatrically effective and well supported by Kain's develop.m.ent of her characters. Ultimately, the social, personal and psychological issues explored are meaningful and turn The Summer House into a serious play.
All is not copasetic. Tension and interest are diluted by overlong discursive scenes. The play would work better if Cain could more closely integrate the play's disparate elements of mystery and serious drama.
Although racially specific attitudes do flesh out character details (particularly in the case of Sandy), The Summer House is decidedly not a play about race.
Director Jade King Carroll found four ideal actors for The Summer House and has guided them to fully capture all the facets of their roles. Krystel Lucas is excellent in the very difficult role of Kennedy. Lucas blends Kennedy's bright, young adult artist with her disturbing early adolescent psychology, and (he notes mysteriously) more. Gerard Catus smoothly keeps us guessing just who and what Bill is until the final blackout. Marie Thomas is delightfully not nice in the funny opening scene, and then subtly adds layers to her Sandy. Scott Price and Kain's writing nicely sustain the ambiguity that is and will remain Chip's defining trait.
The set design by Lara Fabian impressively captures the feel of the play's glamorous locations on a limited budget (the scene change from the apartment to the summer house requires a break during the first of two acts). Karen Perry's costumes are helpful in further fleshing out the characters.
Perhaps it should be noted that Amber Kain has been an actress since childhood, and has written in other media. However, it is likely that she would agree that her first play is something else. Her The Summer House is really something else.
The Summer House continues performances (Evenings: Thursdays-Saturdays 8 p.m. / Mats.: Sat. 2 p.m.; Sundays 3 p.m.) through November 23, 2008 at the Passage Theatre Company, Mill Hill Playhouse, Front and Montgomery Streets, Trenton 08605. Box Office: 609-392-0766; on-line: www.PassageTheatre.org.
The Summer House by Amber Kain; directed by Jade King Carroll