NEW YORK (AP) — Internationally renowned Norwegian novelist and playwright Jon Fosse's circuitous, repetitive dialogue can leave an audience lost at sea. His memory play, "A Summer Day," is making its American premiere in a well-acted, dreamlike but somber Rattlestick Playwrights Theater production at The Cherry Lane Theatre.
Sarah Cameron Sunde, who directs the one-act play in slow motion, also translated it from the Norwegian into what she calls "American-English," and Fosse's poetical reflections may have lost some life in the transition. He clearly understands how obsessive the pull of even negative memories can be, but his larger themes about guilt, love and loss are weighed down by reiterative action and dialogue.
The plot is simple: In an isolated house by a bay, an unnamed woman (the talented Karen Allen, effectively haunting and distressed) relives the worst day of her life from decades later. She provides narration while wistfully watching her much younger self (an affecting performance by Samantha Soule) on the day her depressed husband disappeared.
Soule nicely calibrates her emotions, as restless anxiety blossoms into dread and one careless decision changes life in a heartbeat. It seems increasingly likely that her husband (a sturdy performance by McCaleb Burnett) might not be returning from a spur-of-the-moment, late-day trip in his small, wooden boat, as a storm comes up over the bay.
Allen roams the stage, a luminous, ghost-like presence, staring compassionately and regretfully as her younger self slowly realizes the tragic truth. It's a pleasure to watch both Allen and Soule, and one wishes they'd been given more compelling things to say and do. Ritualistically, they open and close a symbolic, invisible window numerous times while staring out over the audience, and frequently repeat how they stand/stood in front of that window, the last place from which they saw the husband.
Maren Bush is sweetly nervous and consoling as the young woman's visiting friend, while Pamela Shaw plays a shallow, older version of her. Stirring projections occasionally surround the beautifully lit, stark set, notably one of roiling seawaters that matches the emotional tumult evident within the widow and widow-to-be.
Fosse's abstract technique may be an acquired taste, even in this 90-minute dose, but the welcome return of Karen Allen to the New York stage is a treat not to be missed.