November may seem like an odd month for a play called The Song of Summer, but Mixed Blood Theatre’s new production arrives just in time for the annual debate over “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” When the male singer resists his female duet partner’s attempts to leave, is it harmless flirtation or is he denying her right to say no?
Robbie (Dustin Bronson), the artist who belts the eponymous hit in Lauren Yee’s script, is in the middle of a firestorm with lyrics that push the consent question to the point of absurdity. The song, though, turns out to be something of a red herring. This isn’t a play about problematic lyrics, and it’s not a play about plagiarism or appropriation, although Robbie’s in the Thicke of all those issues. It’s a story about—stop me if you’ve heard this one before—a failure of communication and the importance of being honest about your feelings.
It’s just as well that the single is only a plot device, because we do actually hear it, and it’s not remotely plausible as a global chart-topper. Unfortunately, it’s not just the song that feels like a mere joke in this flawed production of a disappointing script. The idea that a rock star could have deep-seated self-esteem issues and still be afraid to talk to his boyhood crush is plausible; it could be amusing and poignant to watch this guy in his mesh shirt and sequined jacket fumble to make small talk with the hometown sweetheart he could have had.
Bronson, though, plays Robbie as such an irredeemable sad sack that he makes Charlie Brown look like Pitbull. Maybe Robbie doesn’t think he deserves his success, but Bronson acts almost exactly the same as a celebrity pushing 30 as he does in a flashback to his teenage self. There’s just no arc, and it’s the same situation with Elyse Ahmad as Tina, Robbie’s childhood friend who made her romantic interest clear and still might carry a torch for the boy who moved away.
Both actors seem miscast, struggling to convince us we’re watching an actual relationship unfold. Director Addie Gorlin has some fun with the material—at a Sunday matinee, a group of young viewers squealed at the intentional awkwardness of Tina and Robbie fumbling to hook up in the dark—but she doesn’t achieve much more than that. Even Maggie Pistner and Gavin Lawrence, as comic supporting characters, can’t get this show on the road.
New York-based Yee is a true rock star of a playwright: The Song of Summer is the second of four among her scripts seeing professional productions in the Twin Cities over an 18-month span. This is not her strongest work, though, and the Mixed Blood staging doesn’t play to its strengths. When you’re making your Minnesota playlist, it’s a Song you can skip.
The Song of Summer
Mixed Blood Theatre
1501 S. Fourth St., Minneapolis
612-338-6131; through November 24