"Lewiston" at Long Wharf

By David A. Rosenberg

The ol’ west still ain’t what it used to be. Whom to blame? In Samuel D. Hunter’s evocative, admirably realistic Lewiston, having its world premiere at Long Wharf Theater, it’s that familiar conflict between a new country’s western expansion at the expense of devouring the land. What to replace rivers and streams, trees and animals but swimming pools and condos, strip malls and big-box stores?

Welcome to Sam Shepard country. Hunter is not the poet of the plains that Shepard is, resulting in an absorbing though not particularly enlightening evening. Still, as in his award-winning The Whale, Hunter’s cries for lost but salvageable souls touch a reservoir of compassion.

In Lewiston, an Idaho town named after Meriwether Lewis, co-explorer with William Clark of a trail from the Midwest to the Pacific coast, Lewiss’ descendants try to reconcile their heritage with contemporary needs. Should Alice sell her property to developers? Should her platonic roommate, Connor, with whom she operates a failing roadside fireworks stand, light out for territory more in keeping with his nature? Should the young woman who appears on the scene, Alice’s granddaughter Marnie, insinuate her desires and thus upend her grandmother’s plans?

As much a family conflict as an indictment of Manifest Destiny, Lewiston is primarily a slice of life. Marnie’s desire to preserve the property as pristine is a hindrance to progress. Alice’s determination to sell is a blot on her ancestors. These are people who need to escape the past but either can’t or won’t. What they need most is a connection as blood relatives, a merger of old and new.

Throughout the evening, a disembodied voice, Marie's mom (Lucy Owen), is heard recording her impressions as she hikes the expedition trail. Playing both between scenes and at the end while Alice and Marnie listen, it’s a static, awkward device with the audience sitting in the dark, listening hard, then watching actors listening real hard.

Under Eric Ting’s knowing direction (he very much understands the play’s naturalism), both the physical production and the acting exude verisimilitude. Randy Danson is a tough Alice, a wounded bird no longer willing to fly. Martin Moran’s Connor vibrantly shows the frustration beneath acceptance, while Arielle Goldman as Marnie skillfully morphs from annoying hippie to responsible adult.

Wilson Chin’s detailed set is properly rural-tacky, as are Paloma Young’s costumes. All is lit with a sense of loss by Matthew Richards.

Hunter has written a companion piece, Clarkston, which had a reading earlier this year. Also inspired by the Lewis and Clark expedition, it’s sure to continue exploring the American interdependence of people and land.

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