David Auburn’s newest play is the barest wisp of a thing, a two-hander about young mothers who met one summer in a leafy academic community when their children were roughly the same age. Diana, an artist who’s shy about her status as an adjunct professor but otherwise a bit of a snob, strikes up an unlikely bond with Alice, the wife of a tenure-seeking economics professor who long ago eschewed her own scholarly pursuits for the life of a housewife who eagerly dives into middlebrow paperbacks by James Michener or James Clavell.
Summer, 1976, which opened Tuesday at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, carries some of the markers of its era — from Diana’s all-black ensemble to the flowy paisley-like dress and leather boots that Alice dons to signal her more willing embrace of domesticity. (Linda Cho designed the costumes.)
Laura Linney has the right hauteur for Diana, conveying a prickliness that makes you understand why she seems to have avoided friends of both sexes — as well as professional advancement. And Jessica Hecht projects a kind of ditzy earth-mother quality that’s well suited to the more unapologetically domestic Alice. But despite Daniel Sullivan’s smooth direction and Auburn’s solid writing, including some meta flourishes toward the end, there’s just not much to make us care about these women and a friendship that seems to have dissipated rather quickly.