Sarah Cameron’s translation and direction of Jon Fosse’s A Summer Day, presented by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at the Cherry Lane Theatre, unveils the psychological maelstrom which destroys the life of a man and a woman. Starting with two women in a little house by the sea, step by step the play washes us towards the autumn sea and buries us under the freezing cold of the seashore.
It is a pleasantly warm summer day when the Friend of the main character (referred to as the Woman) visits her in the house where she has lived since her husband and she first moved there many years ago. With her friend questioning her perpetual obsession with the view outside the window, we begin to wonder why the woman appears so disoriented, so fragile. The Woman cowers in confusion with the incessant voice of her friend, and yet continues to be fixated by something outside. We begin to wonder: is she waiting for something to appear? As it turns out, only when the friend leaves is the woman truly liberated, as she begins to search back to the autumn of her past, when she lived as a young woman with her husband.
We return to the past with the Younger Woman and her husband (the Man) on stage, while the Older Woman stands by, watching the interactions, and at times even taking a passive part in it. The Woman and her husband have moved to the countryside because the husband—a loner—finds city-life to be nerve-wracking. However, when the Man continues to be anxious, the Woman begins to question whether she, or something within his mind, is the cause of his misery. But the Woman refuses to understand her husband or the sea, which so soothes his anxiety and excites his languidness, because she is afraid. Underneath all the playful tete-a-tete, the Woman and her husband remain in a tug-of-war in which one side hopes to pull the other over: the Woman wants her husband to remain home and spend time with her (outside of the realm of the unknown, which she fears), while the Man wants his wife to understand him (and the part of him that scares her) by going out into the sea.
By the end, it became clear that the woman and the man are one in the same, both wishing for each other to appreciate their values and never seeing those wishes come true. The “inexplicable anxiety” of both parties is hidden behind the facade of happiness, until it finally empties out in moments least expected. Beneath everything, there is always unhappiness at the present state of being and a desire for change in each other rather than themselves. Never would the Woman have imagined that the uncomfortable cycle of going out to the sea and coming back home would end. It is only when the Woman discovers the neatly folded clothes in the Man’s bedroom does she realize that he is saying “goodbye.”
In the end, is the woman more afraid of the turbulent waters that have threatened to topple her before, even more so than her love for her husband? If she really loves her husband, why does she urge him to go out, on that autumn day? It turns out that she, too, is confounded by her own suspicion of her husband’s mental illness, and wants to suppress it, even if it hurts her. This is why she goes back repeatedly, either to welcome her friend or bring her friend back home when she foresees that something evil is brewing in air.
The euphoria in the last scene occurs only when her last bond to society, symbolized by her friend, leaves her alone. Only then could she open the window once more and feel herself be a person again. But because of this, she lives in the past, and no longer in the present.
Image from wegothere.org