Long Wharf Theatre
Long Wharf Theatre is currently presenting the world premiere play, “Lewiston,” an intriguing, well-acted, if somewhat ambiguous new work. As written by playwright Samuel D. Hunter and directed by Eric Ting, this play certainly holds one’s attention throughout and also features fine performances from its three member cast. The show also conjures up a sense of tension and offers interesting relationships between the characters, truly calling into question the whole meaning of the word “family.” That being said, “Lewiston” still seems a bit like a work-in-progress: there are a number of wonderful and surprising elements in this play, but the show as a whole doesn’t quite come together as well as one would like. Nonetheless, “Lewiston” does get enough things right to make it worth the trip to Long Wharf Theatre to see it.
Set in Lewiston, Idaho, at a fireworks stand, right around July 4th, the first people we see as the play opens are Alice (an excellent Randy Danson) and Connor (the superb Martin Moran) who run the fireworks stand. These two characters make quite an unusual couple: neither romantically involved or related by family, Alice and Connor are more like unlikely friends who have grown to depend on each other. At the start of the play, there is much talk about Alice’s property being sold away and condominiums being built nearby. It is also established that Alice’s ancestors include Captain Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark expedition that shortly followed the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. This sense of history is truly at the core of this new play and figures greatly in the actions of the main characters.
Not to give too much more of the plot away, a young woman named Marnie (the radiant Arielle Goldman) arrives onto the property and proceeds to turn Alice and Connor’s world upside down. Since “Lewiston” is full of surprises and unexpected moments, I am loath to reveal anything more about the show’s story. Suffice it is to say, relationships are both broken and mended and much changes during the play’s ninety minute running time.
One of the strongest aspects of this show is the fine acting of its trio of performers. Randy Danson’s Alice is a figure of strength and fortitude, a real salt-of-the-earth person, though she does have her vulnerable side. Martin Moran, who I have seen to great advantage in a number of Broadway musicals, is fully Alice’s match as Connor and he brings a great deal of compassion and empathy to his role. As Marnie, the youngest character onstage, Arielle Goldman is, by turns, both sweet and fiercely angry, a combination that this actress pulls off expertly.
In addition to his fine work with his actors, director Eric Ting creates an evocative world in “Lewiston,” including a dustbowl like set design by Wilson Chin and striking lighting effects by lighting designer Matthew Richards. Sound designer Brandon Wolcott also does fine work, especially in the almost cryptic moments between scenes when a disembodied woman’s voice is heard talking into a tape recorder as she seems to be making her own expedition through the countryside. (Lucy Owen provides the female voice). It is only gradually revealed during the show how this woman figures into the lives of the three main characters.
Playwright Samuel D. Hunter is to be commended for keeping his play from becoming overly sentimental and his choice of an ambiguous conclusion to this low key work is also a plus. Still, there are plot complications that are not exactly sorted out and one almost wishes that there would be more time to explore these characters a little more deeply. However, if Samuel D. Hunter’s play “Lewiston” isn’t completely fleshed out, there are enough good points in this show to think that, with further changes, “Lewiston” could become a truly strong play. Even as it stands now, this show at Long Wharf Theatre is still fascinating enough to be worth a look.
“Lewiston” continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT through May 1, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.longwharf.org or call the box office at 203-787-4282.