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BWW Review: LEWISTON in New Haven

What a difference a day makes in Samuel D. Hunter's play, Lewiston, which is having its world premiere at the Long Wharf Theatre.

Don't let the words "world premiere" make you nervous. Hunter's 90-minute play is well-written, deep and absorbing, making the audience see familiar elements in a new light.

Lewiston is the sister play of Clarkston, but can be seen independently. Both titles use the Lewis and Clark expedition as an essential part of the story. In Lewiston, Alice (Randy Danson) is a run-down version of America's landed gentry. A descendent of Meriwether Lewis, Alice has been selling chunks of the land that has been in her family since the days of Lewis and Clark. Lewiston, once a small town, is changing and leaving people such as Alice in the dust of condo development. Her relationship with her roommate, Connor (Martin Moran), is a bit complicated. They are not in love, but they take care of each other. He tries in vain to help her make her rickety fireworks stand more profitable. The fireworks really start when Marnie (Arielle Goldman) comes to visit, seemingly out of the blue.

But Marnie's agenda and aggressive manner upset the lives of Alice and Connor. It turns out that she is Alice's granddaughter. Her mother suffered from mental illness and drowned herself. She left a tape of a journey she made that followed part of the Lewis and Clark trail, describing some of what her ancestors saw as they made their famous expedition. Both the tape (with Lucy Owen's warm and pleasant voice) and the land are important to Marnie and her mother. Marnie had just sold her share in an urban farm she developed in Seattle and she needs to go back to her roots, and she doesn't seem to care that she could hurt people in the process. The characters are plausible and Danson, Morn and Goldman are superb, natural and believable.

Also superb is director Eric Ting, who drew out all the nuances of these characters from the performers. Wilson Chin's set perfectly captures the changes that the play's characters witness in a once small town. The set resembles a dustbowl with dried up plants, nearly decrepit fireworks stand topped by a worn and torn American flag. The lighting design by Matthew Richards and sound by Brandon Wolcott are fantastic. This is one of the few productions that actually uses fireworks, and these also reflect another theme in the play - the dying American dream. Alice and Marnie should be in the Social Register, right among the names of members of the Daughters of the American Revolution. But the unexpected kept happening and they each did the best they could with their lives.

The genius of the play is playwright Samuel D. Hunter. He packs so much into a short time. The play seems low key, but it is powerful and haunting without ever being mawkish or the characters self-pitying. Don't miss this production of Lewiston and seek out opportunities to see his other plays, Clarkston and Pocatello. His plays are Idaho's best export since the potato.

"Lewiston" runs through May 1 at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. For tickets, visit www.longwharf.org or call the box office at 203-787-4282.



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From This Author Sherry Shameer Cohen