Broadway Review: SUMMER, 1976 (Manhattan Theatre Club at Samuel J. Friedman)

Post image for Broadway Review: SUMMER, 1976 (Manhattan Theatre Club at Samuel J. Friedman)

by Paulanne Simmons on May 2, 2023

in Theater-New York


From the moment we first see Diana (Laura Linney) and Alice (Jessica Hecht), the two friends whose story is told in David Auburn’s new play, Summer, 1976, we know exactly who they are. Diana is dressed in a sleek black top and pants; Alice wears a light peasant dress.

The two women live in Columbus Ohio, home to a small college with a forgettable name. They become acquainted because their daughters have taken an instant liking for each other. It takes Diana and Alice more time and a joint to get to the same point.

Their story is told in alternating monologues. Alice says she dropped out of college to marry her husband, an economics professor, and is now a contented wife and mother. Diana says she got pregnant after a brief encounter with a glassblower and is now a single mother and art professor at the college. Neither is telling the whole truth.

Summer, 1976 is about a summer’s friendship that was intense and meaningful but didn’t really change the life of either young mother. What brings the play above and beyond the mundane are the extraordinary performances of Hecht and Linney. They seldom touch or even address each other. Except for a few times when Linney plays Alice’s husband (a man who is remarkably similar to Diana), all speech is addressed to the audience.

Yet Linney and Hecht manage to establish a tender and deeply affecting closeness. They argue. They forgive. They scheme. They support. This is what friendship should be, we tell ourselves.

Director Daniel Sullivan has an instinctive understanding of the show’s delicate warmth. And John Lee Beatty’s set (one table, two chairs surrounded by translucent walls with a geometric design) allow Japhy Weideman’s lighting to do wonders.

Most people will probably feel deeply moved by the end of the play. But after the houselights go up and the audience files out, they may not remember a word that was said.

photos © Jeremy Daniel, 2023

Summer, 1976
Manhattan Theatre Club
The Samuel  J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47 Street
run time: one hour 40 minutes, no intermission
ends on June 10, 2023 EXTENDED to June 18, 2023
for tickets visit

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