By Jenny Connell
Directed by Paul D’Addario
Produced by The Gift Theatre
Developing script receives a strong production.
The Gift Theatre is ending its 2009 season with the world premiere of Summer People by ensemble member Jenny Connell. I truly commend The Gift Theatre for doing a world premiere in this economic climate, but ultimately this script still needs work before showcasing it as a full production.
Summer People is a character drama set in 2004. The primary action takes place on a campground in Maine where we see Kate (in a simple, but complex performance by Lynda Newton) and her two daughters spending the summer away from New York. Meanwhile, a mysterious soldier (the effectively subtle Rob Belushi) comes looking for a place to stay. The plot hops between Kate battling her past and two precocious daughters, and the soldier fighting his demons. While I appreciate a 70-minute play, I do not feel the brevity served the storytelling. I feel more attention needs to be given to plot and character development. Right now Summer People feels like two interesting premises fitting into one incomplete play.
Luckily, director Paul D’Addario has helmed a handsome production and solicited some very fine performances. The design team took a shoebox and created multiple locations without ever feeling cramped. The actors were natural and believable, with the only caveat of some actors became too “natural” and mumbled key lines. However, I truly applaud Rae Gray for straying from stereotype and giving a compelling performance as a teenager battling adolescence and her mother. If Ms. Gray sticks with acting, she is going places.
I truly hope Ms. Connell continues to work with this script, because she is off to a great start. Also, I do feel these actors and this production deserve an audience.
Reviewed by Chris Arnold
Summer People runs Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:30pm. Tickets are $25, $20 tickets are available at all Sunday performances for students, seniors, and industry with proper identification. For tickets call (773) 283-7071. The Gift Theatre is located at 4802 N. Milwaukee in Chicago’s Jefferson Park neighborhood. Through December 13.