A Summer Day is a Fosse play that couldn’t be farther from the razzle-dazzle of that other Fosse. Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse’s drama, playing at Off Broadway’s Cherry Lane Theatre, is purposely amorphous, going for mood over story. An Older Woman (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’s Karen Allen) spends her days in her isolated oceanfront house staring wistfully out at the water. Her memory takes her back to her younger self (Samantha Soule), when she first moved from the city to the house with her partner, Asle (McCaleb Burnett). The nature of their relationship is unclear — are they fiancés or newlyweds? We learn almost nothing of their history. What is clear is that behind the smiles and the gestures of intimacy lies a vague sense of emptiness.
The action — or inaction — begins when Asle, the only named character in the play, sails out on a small wooden boat despite the young woman’s entreaties to stay home. A storm hits while Asle is on the water. A friend (Maren Bush) comes to visit as the young woman wrings her hands waiting for Asle’s safe return. The Older Woman stands to the side, watching as her memories play out and occasionally interrupting with a monologue.
The play drifts along at a slow 80 minutes, and Fosse’s dialogue is poetic and intentionally repetitive. The characters frequently engage in long conversations in which little is communicated. The words and events don’t necessarily command your attention or investment — they simply convey murky emotions: Sadness. Helplessness. Worry, worry, worry. The experience of watching the play is almost like watching a scratched DVD; when we get to a damaged section, the disc gets stuck at that point for longer than we’d like, until it finally figures out how to move forward again.
Allen and Soule present an effective dichotomy as the same woman at different ages: As the Older Woman, Allen floats around the stage with frail, watery-eyed regret; Soule’s emotionality is more immediate and robust. Fosse’s tone typifies that of Scandinavian literature by presenting dark moods with deceptively simple, detached language. While director Sarah Cameron Sunde’s translation of Fosse’s work succeeds in eliciting emotions, A Summer Day may leave those hoping for a satisfying narrative feeling unseasonably chilly. B-
(Tickets: wegothere.org or 212-989-2020)