BWW Review: Judith Ivey and Edmund Donovan Extraordinary in Samuel D. Hunter's GREATER CLEMENTS
As played by Judith Ivey and Ken Narasaki in Samuel D. Hunter's touching and emotion-twisting drama Greater Clements, Maggie and Billy seem like the kind of couple who would have spent many happy decades together after being high school sweethearts, had Maggie's father, a World War II veteran who fought in the Pacific, not forbidden her from getting further involved with the Japanese-American young man.
Billy's family, after being forcibly sent from the west coast to an Idaho internment camp for the duration of the war, stayed in the playwright's nearby fictional mining town after learning that their property had been irreversibly stolen.
Even after the 1972 fire that killed 81 low-paid workers deep inside the Dodson Mine, including Maggie's father, the town thrived on the mining of silver, lead, zinc, copper and gold until hard times shut it down in 2005. In recent years, wealthy Californians have been buying up and building on the now readily available land and have been causing legal friction with the struggling long-time residents, leading to a vote that has unincorporated the town; thus dissolving funds and causing most businesses to shut down.
This will soon include Maggie's modest mining museum, which used to offer guided tours deep below the surface. Set designer Dane Laffrey places a stage level that rises and descends to take us into the mine. It's an impressive effect, but the girders that support it do obstruct sightlines.
While accompanying his 14-year-old daughter Kel (Haley Sakamoto) to participate in a mock legislature, Billy makes a detour in order for the two of them to stay with Maggie for the weekend. With the two of them now single, Billy also intends to ask Maggie to live with him.
But of major consideration is the state of Maggie's 27-year-old son Joe (Edmund Donovan), who suffers from a condition that causes him to often see faces as blurs and has the emotional growth of a 15-year-old. Joe used to give the guided tours, but after a violent incident, he ran off to Alaska, figuring his mother would be better off without him, but Maggie flew out there and brought him back.
While Maggie is concerned if Billy can handle living with Joe, the playwright plants concerns in the audience's minds about what may more immediately occur between Joe and Kel, especially after witnessing his emotional outbursts. Kel is a kid with a morbid curiosity and, after learning about the tragic fire, tries manipulating Joe into taking her to the mine's bottom level.
Complications are stoked by the county sheriff (Andrew Garman) who has a long-time crush on Maggie and is always keeping a suspicious eye on Joe, and local Olivia (Nina Hellman), who's trying to get support to overturn the vote.
Under Davis McCallum's direction, Ivey and Donovan both give extraordinarily gripping performances, with Maggie continually fighting her urges for her own happiness in order to take care of Joe and Joe recognizing the burden he has become on his mother.
The final scene of the three-act play, which introduces a largely symbolic character played by Kate MacCluggage, may seem superfluous, especially since the scene that precedes it nails down the point with a heartbreaking clout, but nevertheless, Greater Clements is an extremely moving drama with two outstanding central performances.