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Bicentennial Women: “Summer, 1976” reviewed”

Playwright David Auburn knows how to tease even the slightest sense of expectation in Summer, 1976, the inert but satisfying production directed by Daniel Sullivan at Manhattan Theatre Club.

In Summer, 1976 the two women meet, as Diana (Laura Linney) informs us at the beginning, through their children. Both are the parents of five-year-old daughters and participate in a “babysitting co-op” organized by Alice’s (Jessica Hecht) husband, a university professor. Alice is a stay-at-home mom — “She was essentially living like a 1950s housewife,” Diana sardonically comments — while single mother Diana, who became pregnant during a one-night stand in college, teaches at the university as well.

What follows is a friendship made all the more believable by its tentativeness. The two find common ground, but Alice’s more genuineness sometimes creates friction against Diana’s flinty self-reliance, and Hecht and Linney embody their characters’ ups and downs to a tee. (Speaking of tees, Linda Cho’s all-purpose costume choice spans the decades: Diana in sleek, timeless black, Alice adrift in a blowsy Indian-print dress.)

Like the country itself, the women’s relationship redefines itself periodically, and looks different through the prism of time. But Summer, 1976 also shows that change, achievement, and adaptation are possible, and are out there for the taking.

“Great things were promised me, Alice,” Diana says. “I promised them to myself.”

Summer, 1976

Samuel J. Friedman Theater