Written by Samuel D. Hunter; directed by Davis McCallum
Performances through January 19, 2020
Edmund Donovan (front) and Haley Sakamoto in Greater Clements (photo: T. Charles Erickson)
Comprising mostly desultory moments that too often flirt with soap opera, Samuel D. Hunter’s Greater Clements doesn’t quite succeed as a real American tragedy, but it’s a serious play about a relevant subject: the end of the American Dream.
The setting is Clements, a small Idaho town that’s seen better days: the once-thriving mine has closed and even tours of it have dwindled to nothing. Proprietor of the local museum, Maggie—whose father died in a mine accident years ago and whose husband left her for another man—survives meagerly thanks to the occasional tourist visit, but most of her time is spent dealing with her grown son, Joe, a disturbed young man whose violent past haunts the community.
Reentering Maggie’s life is Billy, a high school boyfriend dying of cancer who wants to rekindle their relationship. Billy brings along his granddaughter, Kel, whose quick bonding with Joe leads to a scare when Kel goes missing. The play’s convoluted melodrama is climaxed by a fatal shooting, a scene in which poor Maggie is tortured psychologically—and needlessly, even masochistically—by the playwright. (He even introduces a new character, which drags the length play out even more.)
Hunter does write sympathetically about these characters’ current situation, with Joe, in his quotidian way, explaining cogently what’s happened to places around the country like Clements: “I mean, it’s gotten smaller, it’s—. But I mean, being a town—it still means something.” But, as his cavalier treatment of his heroine in the play’s final enervating sequence shows, Hunter is not above manipulation. Maggie’s relationship with Billy is touching, but let’s face it: Hunter needs Billy and Kel in town to pave the way for the play’s climactic death.
David McCallum’s staging (on Dane Laffrey’s agile sets, with an assist from Yi Zhao’s expressive lighting) is impeccable, and the fine supporting cast is led by Ken Narasaki as Billy and Haley Sakamoto as Kel. But, most memorably, Maggie and Joe are illuminated by the affecting performances of Judith Ivey and Edmund Donovan, which hauntingly cut to the heart of the mother and son’s complicated relationship.
Lincoln Center Theater, 150 West 65th Street, New York, NY