If you ask me - Tom Holehan
“Lewiston”, A World Premiere at Long Wharf
Samuel D. Hunter’s touching and all-too-timely “Lewiston” is a memorable world premiere at the Long Wharf Theatre. It is currently onstage at the New Haven theatre’s intimate Stage II in a lovely production directed by Eric Ting. With this new play, Long Wharf continues its generally outstanding 51st season.
Set on a dusty scrap of land outside of Lewiston, Idaho, the area is of historical significance and the namesake of explorer Meriwether Lewis who, with William Clark, led the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-06. That piece of history provides a backdrop for the characters in this perceptive drama. Mr. Hunter has also written a companion piece to the play entitled “Clarkson”. On the evidence of “Lewiston”, Long Wharf would do well to schedule that drama next season.
As the play opens, Marnie (Arielle Goldman) stumbles into a dreary roadside fireworks stand run by Alice (Randy Danson) and her longtime roommate, Connor (Martin Moran). There is casual chitchat until we learn that Marnie is Alice’s granddaughter who hasn’t seen Alice since she was a young girl. Alice’s daughter, Marnie’s mom, has died under circumstances that become clear as this engrossing character study develops. Among other things, “Lewiston” explores the tentative strands holding family relationships together, the demands of friendship and the ongoing pain of loss. It also is timely as to its viewpoint of the independent businessman being pushed aside for the sake of progress. Alice’s decision to sell off her land for condo development is one of the primary conflicts in “Lewiston”.
Under the delicate direction of Mr. Ting, making a welcome return to Long Wharf from his current position as Artistic Director of the California Shakespeare Theater, the three-person cast is perfectly matched with lived-in performances that breathe humanity. Danson’s gruff exterior and world-weary persona masks a more vulnerable center. She doesn’t make a false move. One of the nicest surprises in the script is the trajectory of her relationship with Moran’s Connor and how it takes on new meaning with the arrival of Marnie. Moran’s sensitive portrayal of his haunted character may move you to tears as will Miss Goldman’s passionate, complicated Marnie. Lucy Owen’s invaluable voice contribution to the play must also be mentioned as a character that is never seen but is instrumental in making the drama’s final moments so powerful.
The atmospheric setting by Wilson Chin gets many details spot-on especially with its faded fireworks banner and sad display of cheap products. The dust and grit is prevalent here though I wish Alice’s home was better defined. Exits to the house seem to lead nowhere. Paloma Young’s costuming, Matthew Richards’ lighting and Brandon Wolcott’s sound, however, all contribute to the overall success of this stirring production of a beautiful new American play.
“Lewiston” continues at Long Wharf’s Stage II through Sunday, May 1, 2016. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.