What a lovely play this is! Tim Errickson—a theatre artist I very much admire, but heretofore always as either director, producer, or both—has written a piece that is warm, satisfying, and very wise. This world premiere production, directed gracefully by Christopher Thomasson, is part of Boomerang Theatre Company's fall season. In its wistful but unsentimental exploration of roads not taken, Endless Summer Nights is a worthy complement to Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and Fry's Venus Observed, the other shows being offered in the repertory.
The play takes place in a beach community in Southern New Jersey, probably not far from Cape May. It's a fairly sleepy small town, the kind that Baby Boomers and their children are more likely to have left behind than stayed in—though of course there are always exceptions. Two such are Sam and Scotto, both now in their late 30s, both lifelong residents. Scotto's dad runs the liquor store, where Scotto now works himself; his girlfriend Terry is pregnant and he's slowly coming to terms with his impending responsibilities. Sam used to work at the deli, and then took a job at the Sam's Club. But he's just been laid off, as we discover when we first meet him, and since the lease on his apartment is up at the end of the month, he's decided—very much to Scotto's surprise—to leave town. His plan is to not have a plan: just head south and find something new and different in a world that, as he reminds his pal, is very big.
And then, literally on his way out of town, Sam bumps into Tracy. Tracy is here visiting her mom, who recently had a bit of a fall and is now walking with a cane and might be losing her memory; Tracy herself is still recovering from a bitter divorce that left her husband with custody of their son. Tracy, we realize, is the one person Sam might postpone his departure for...because 20 years ago, during the summer after their last year of high school, Sam and Tracy fell hard for each other. Tracy asks Sam if he'd like to have dinner the next night, and he says sure, yes. And now Sam needs to decide whether he can—or even wants to try—to recapture what he thinks he lost two decades ago.
Errickson intersperses among the present-day scenes brief glimpses of that last summer Tracy and Sam spent together when they were kids. We watch them and realize we're watching Sam's cherished memories, moments he's replayed over and over again throughout the intervening years. Can a first love really get a second chance?
The play is funny, smart, and very grown-up as it tracks Sam and Tracy's unexpected reunion. Errickson's dialogue feels spot-on, capturing the voices of each of his characters with canny sensitivity. And the plotting, shrewd and skillful, constantly surprises us; there's a scene, for example, that brings Scotto and Tracy's Mom together, and we think we know where it is going to take us ... and it does nothing of the kind. Like life, the play follows its own course and rhythm; there's no heavy-handed authorial spirit pushing the characters this way or that. (Endless Summer Nights reminds me of the works of Kelly McAllister, a frequent Errickson collaborator, in this respect.)
One of the reasons the play works so well, of course, is because it's so beautifully produced and acted. The set, by Nikki Black, is simplicity itself—a platform representing the boardwalk and another playing area that becomes Scotto and Terry's house at one point and the car where young Tracy and Sam are making out at others. Cheryl McCarron's costumes look precisely like what each of these people would wear. Jacob Subotnick and Kia Rogers provide, respectively, sound and lighting that highlight the mood and theme beautifully.
As Sam, Michael Criscuolo anchors the play: he has a naturalness and ease that make us instantly empathize with this man; every movement feels organic and real. (Note: this is the same Michael Criscuolo who has been a longtime contributor to nytheatre.com; here's a great chance for readers to experience his considerable acting talent.) Synge Maher, as Tracy, is equally convincing, showing us the layers that time has imposed on her once idealistic self. As younger versions of Sam and Tracy, Bret Richard Hoskins and Becky Byers are achingly effective. And in the "confidante" roles of Mom and Scotto, Nora Hummel and Joseph Mathers are exemplary, creating fully dimensional, interesting characters who we care about and love.
Indeed, it may be that one of the secrets of Endless Summer Nights' success is its vivid detail. Errickson creates a whole community around Sam and Tracy and Scotto and Mom—from the developer who wants to buy all the shops at the pier to Tracy's little brother, now (at 6'2") not so little—that feels almost like a character itself. Even if you're not from a town like this one, you're going to find much here to identify with—just as you will in the bittersweet relationship between Sam and Tracy. Who has not wanted to start over again at some point in his or her life?
Endless Summer Nights is definitely one of the highlights of a very busy fall season, as well as the herald of a fine new playwriting voice in Tim Errickson. Who knew this talented artistic director of Boomerang had such a touching and heartfelt drama inside him? As his own play reminds us, surprises are all around us.