Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Hunter, who grew up in Idaho, sets his 90-minute play in the town of Lewiston, so named for Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark duo. Wilson Chin's scenic design includes a large, fraying fireworks stand stage right and a couple of worn picnic chairs along with various coolers positioned near center stage. Alice (Randy Danson) is a woman who, having lived on this land for ages, is about to sell and hopes to reside, soon enough, in a condo. Seven or eight years earlier, Connor (Martin Moran), a butcher by trade, became her housemate. Their friendship is a deep one even as they spar. Enter Marnie (Arielle Goldman), a smallish young woman who carries on her back many belongings, including a tent which she does not hesitate to quickly pitch.
Marnie is granddaughter to Alice, whom she hasn't seen in years. Marie has recently based herself in Seattle where she created an urban farm business. She's been compelled, though, to leaveto explore and attempt to answer probing questions about herself and, especially, her mother. That woman, named Katherine, took her life at some point. We hear her voice (courtesy actress Lucy Owen) and Marnie has with her cassette tapes of her mother's narrative. It seems that Katherine made her way along the Lewis and Clark trail until reaching the Pacific Ocean.
We, from afar, watch and listen as a very odd threesome speak, with varying intensity, to one another. The additional voice, which echoes almost eerily at times, heightens emotions. Hunter does not smack the theatergoer at the outset with impact. Lewiston begins innocuously as Alice and Connor consider prospects for the sale of fireworks during early July. Marina's arrival, however, brings forth questions. She is a searcher and she seeks to find an identity. Further, she wants to better comprehend why her mother committed suicide. This young person is committed, steadfast, and insistent. She will not budge. The import of the story gradually reveals itself and exerts a firm hold.
While Hunter creates conflict among his characters, he also writes dialogue that serves to humanize the relationships. The exchanges are not high-handed and the playwright injects moments of humor, mostly through the effectiveness or lack of as sparklers are lit. Ironically, Marnie, who presents herself as an independent and fairly self-righteous soul, actually seeks to belong, to locate family. Hunter does well with push and pull as he controls tension.
Finding inspiration through Lewis and Clark, the author does not write a play about actual events. It is kind of amusing to discover that Marnie, who attended college for one half of her freshman year, considers herself a history major. Hunter references a locale which is familiar to him, and creates, through his imagination, rich, soulful sequences. His characters evolve and each has a backstory. Thus, the performance inches along, sneaks up, and does so without sensationalism.
Samuel D.Hunter is an award winning dramatist with major New York and regional credits. This past December, his Clarkston had its premiere at The Dallas Theater Center. While he has elected to write plays alluding to Lewis and Clark, it is not clear that these two works will be performed in repertory. The playwright is sharply insightful. He places people next to the fireworks stand but it takes some time before the exposition yields to revelation. One relishes the steady build of the production which is staged without intermission. Hunter peels back the metaphorical skin of his people, and the results are deeply felt.
Randy Danson, playing Alice, and Martin Moran, playing Connor, are seasoned, splendid performers. Arielle Goldman, persuasively personifying Marnie, received her MFA from NYU not long ago and she fills her role with unhurried poise. Lucy Owen's ethereal vocal contribution, coming from another realm or world, is, for Marnie, invigorating. The recordings evoke a time when her mother might have found some measure of peace.
Lewiston continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, through May 1st, 2016. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.