Nina Hellman, Judith Ivey Ken Narasaki, Edmund Donovan, Andrew Garman Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Samuel D. Hunter’s Greater Clements, at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre is three hours long and the question is why? The show doesn’t truly come alive until the last 15 minutes, and when you figure why you have been watching this for so long, you want cry, not for what is going on but the fact this drama shows how damned humanity is. Even when offered hope and a chance at happiness, we wallow in the past. We chose what we have always known.
The play unfolds in the place of Clements, Idaho. The once thriving mining industry has died and now the town is being obliterated. The rich California’s have moved in and the town people have voted for the town not to exist. Maggie (Judith Ivey) and her son Joe (Edmund Donovan ) ran the mine tours, which have been closed down and the gift shop which is one of the only shops left. All of the relatives of Maggie and Joe worked the mine. Her husband who was gay, left Maggie alone to care for Joe who is unstable. With things closing down, a door has opened for Maggie when her first love Billy (Ken Narasaki) reappears after fifty years.
Her neighbor Olivia (Nina Hellman), who is fighting to save the town and the past does not want Maggie leaving or being involved with Billy who has prostate cancer. Also in the mix of this play are issues with World War II Japanese-American internment camp and the fact her war-veteran father kept her from Billy due to his own bigotry? Throw into that Billy is raising his granddaughter Kel (Haley Sakamoto) because his son is an alcoholic. Kel, among other things has a death wish.
Maggie has guilt on all levels including her parenting of Joe and his mental illnesses. This play is laden with disappointment mixed in with the ties that bind.
What the play does well is let us see inside Joe’s truly messed up mind. Like Maggie we are on the outside looking in to a train wreck about to happen and are incapable of stopping it. We know from the beginning that tragedy looms over mother and son. What we don’t know is Joe sees the Kel in him and helps her to move forward, instead of along the same pathway.
Judith Ivey and Edmund Donovan are the reason to see this play. Their performances are exquisite. Each reaches down to reveal layered complex humans on the verge of extinction.
Davis McCallum’s direction drags, but Dane Laffrey’s sets, lighting by Yi Zhao and Fitz Patton’s original music and sound are well done.
Greater Clements has much to offer but it has condensed too many subjects into a play that would have been better off shorter and more focused.
Greater Clements: Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre until Jan. 19th.