“The Trouble with Summer People,” the Yale Dramatic Association’s annual Freshman Show, starts off with a bang. In this farce by Tim Kelly, a gruesome, inexplicable murder has occurred on the premises of Wind Chimes, a low-profile summer spot off the Massachusetts coast.
Left dead is Morton Pitkin, played by Alex Swanson ’18, a local boarder hiding a hoard of rare coins and a trove of secrets. Soon, the small island-community erupts into a panic as convoluted as it is comedic. Rupert Baxter (Dillon Miller ’18), a disgraced army dropout newly married to the benevolent Janis (Emily Harburg ’18) leads the search for the culprit, helped along by a host of characters.
In this dynamic cast full of comic foils, the audience scrutinizes every character’s potential to commit murder. The rambunctious Danny, an aspiring criminologist with a knack for annoying everyone who listens to his wild theories, investigates the crime with good intentions and humorous consequences. Sam Gurwitt ’18 gives a convincing performance, embodying the familiar archetype of the twerp as frustratingly immature as he is precocious.
Danny’s antics rival those of Fluff (Erica Wachs ’18), a naive young girl who brilliantly lightens the dispositions of the dour adults in the room. The curmudgeonly grown-ups include the ever-somber aunt and lover of the deceased, Caroline Francisco ’18; the incompetent chief of police, Josh Toro ’18, who occupies the sweet spot between awkward and insane; Alex Swanson ’18, an exemplar of fine acting, who returns as the dead man’s long-estranged brother; and a sprightly cast of figures stumbling about in pursuit of the assailant.
The summer people laugh, entertain, and seem to move beyond the multipurpose common room in which the work unfolds. Paying homage to the murder mystery tradition, director Emma Healy ’18 blends the cultural relevance of Arthur Miller with the fast-paced fun of Jonathan Lynn’s “Clue.”
Kelly’s script brings little innovation to a familiar genre. The work proceeds along predictable lines by gradually piling the facts of the case onto the narratives of various interwoven characters. By the show’s end, the drama climaxes in a fiery revelation of whodunnit. The denouement, which almost too-perfectly ties together loose ends, closes an Agatha Christie-inspired plot with a fairytale ending.
“Summer People” is a show for all ages. Children will enjoy a spectacle rife with playful shenanigans from the first scene to the last. Fluff and Danny, the resident youngsters of Wind Chimes, successfully connect to a younger audience with countless jokes.
The script too helps anchor the audience. Simple dialogue and straightforward relationships comfortably steer an otherwise crowded stage of personalities. At times, the text relies too heavily on cliché, particularly in the one-line zingers that seem to close about every scene. But the actors take the banalities in stride, adding a layer of professional irony to the already-jokey script.
In particular, the twin Puckle sisters, who finish one another’s sentences, walk in perfect lockstep, and represent a maddeningly hackneyed archetype of the genre, teetering on the fine line between fresh comedic material and stale foils. Erin Hebert ’18 and Sarah Householder ’18 elegantly push their characters toward something new, never taking themselves too seriously while delivering pitch-perfect performances of impressive style and grace.
The two hours spent watching the Freshman Show at the Yale Repertory Theatre will tantalize eager vacationers. The summer people of a desolate Cape Cod lodge-town are causing all sorts of problems — murder, lost love, growing up, unfulfilled dreams. But the class of 2018 emerges unfazed. After perpetual New Haven winter, whatever trouble with summer people we see might just be worth the wait.