Welcome to Trinity Repertory Company and to our presentation of Lauren Yee’s wonderful new play, The Song of Summer. Through the generous support of The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, we have been able to develop plays right here at Trinity Rep over the last several years, built around our company of actors and written by some of the finest young playwrights in America. Yee’s play is a beautiful example of this great, ongoing work.
Remember that song that you couldn’t get out of your head last summer? That ridiculous earworm that made its way onto every wedding playlist, the one that you can’t really sing the words to, but as soon as I hum the tune, you’ll hum along? Probably by some one-hit wonder, it is played everywhere until you cannot stand to hear it again. Yet that song also reminds you of a fleeting, summer romance, so you listen to it with a little bit of longing as well. That is Yee’s sonic point of inspiration for this play, and it is a metaphorically rich starting place.
Those songs of summer, their ubiquity and insistence, are emblematic of our contemporary consumer culture. They are forgettable, disposable, but simply everyone has to have them for a brief, brief time. They can be (and usually are) relentlessly vulgar, simplistically sexual, and all too often objectify women. But an entire industry is built around them, and their purveyors become impossibly and rapidly rich. And when those purveyors start to behave badly in public, we just cannot look away!
Counterpointed against this music-industrial complex reality in Yee’s play is the small town of Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Like a song of summer, all Americans know this town — left behind by so-called progress, it has a dying downtown surrounded by strip malls. It is a vestige of 20th century American expansion and success, declining incrementally and in slow-motion. It is to this hometown that Yee’s protagonist, Robbie Retton, returns at the height of his song of the summer’s popularity. Robbie is searching, looking for the meaning of success, pulled between his small town roots and his overnight sensation. He goes back to this hometown, to the home of the piano teacher where he grew up, to the young woman who was his best friend of his youth.
But Yee’s project is so much more complicated than a run-of-the-mill homecoming story, or even a simple investigation of the nature of success. She is interested in how this simple story is complicated by issues of race, by the forces of commerce, by socioeconomic standing and its perception, and ultimately how the true nature of success relates to a sense of being “home.” This is not only a play about family (like almost every other play in the history of theater) but also a play about the inexorable pull of forces we cannot see, or even may not know exist.
Lauren Yee’s brilliance as a playwright lies in precisely these stories, ones that trace the powerful lines we did not know were even there. She encourages us to see the interweaving of human relations in ways we had not considered. She makes us fall in love with people who might be hard to love… and then shows us why it was worth loving them all along.
So enjoy The Song of Summer. You know the tune. I look forward to seeing you in the theater.
The Arthur P. Solomon and Sally E. Lapides Artistic Director