Bridge Street Theatre’s “Lewiston” is a Rewarding American Journey
Have you ever driven by a roadside attraction and played with the idea of who and what must be by the side of the road for the next few miles? “Lewiston” is a highly satisfying stop you will be eminently grateful you took with characters that will immediately move into your head and heart and take up residence there.
“Lewiston” is by Samuel D. Hunter, a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship winner whose work is produced all too rarely upstate. Bridge Street Theatre is giving the regional premiere of this work which I saw in its New York City debut three years ago at Rattlestick Playwright’s Theatre. It is under the direction of Sara Lampert Hoover who did such a beautiful job with BST’s “Better.” She is again directing her daughter Montana Lampert Hoover who plays Marnie, the prodigal child who has returned home to her grandmother Alice, played by local actor, director and educator Leigh Strimbeck, who shares her fading family estate with her roommate Connor, played by Daniel Hall Kuhn, a newcomer to Bridge Street. The cast could not be better.
It’s the 4th of July weekend and Alice and Connor tend a rarely visited roadside stand (a thoroughly realistic, attractive and shabbily flag draped set design by Bridge Street founder John Sowle) that sells modest fireworks. No roman candles or anything that can actually go up in the air. The interactions between the cast will provide all the explosions for the evening. Alice’s great-great grandfather was Meriwether Lewis’s (the explorer and namesake of the town) cousin who moved to Idaho and opened a cattle ranch which closed with Alice’s husband’s death over a decade ago. There’s a developer next door building a condo development, “Meriwether Terrace,” which is trying to buy her out. “I told them that if Meriwether Lewis knew that his name was being attached to something like that, he probably would have stayed put on the East Coast, not even bothered coming out here.”
Onto this impoverished scene returns her granddaughter Marnie who has just failed at cultivating a sustainable urban farm in Seattle. Alice at first doesn’t recognize her and treats her like a customer. She, in turn, offers Alice $30,000 for her land in an attempt to keep it in the family. Alice accuses Connor of living rent free and stealing her last Michelob Light. Alice’s anger over the lack of business turns into anger against the fireworks sold at the reservation. The relationships have become transactional, the straitened circumstances have worn down all three and their lives of desperation are no longer quiet.
Leigh Strimbeck is radiant under the summer sun (excellent lighting design that pulses and bakes, also with neat fireworks effects by Nicholas Hawrylko) with fire in her eyes as she frets over her future. You can see doors to her heart opening in the presence of her grandchild. I’ve been a big fan of Leigh’s for a long time and I don’t think I’ve been more enthralled by one of her performances than here and she was a powerful and unforgettable Martha! From her first bickering, spit out syllables and sentence fragments with Connor to her dawning realization of who the customer is to the final tableau, I was transfixed by this woman’s soul.
Daniel Hall Kuhn is delightful as Connor. He has rangy good looks, a rakish charm and a burnished voice that promises fun just like the adjectives he reaches for to sell their fireworks. “Brazen” and “audacious” are the words he comes up with for the fireworks and perhaps what he wishes to be but has been circumscribed by small-town life, his sexuality and his career opportunities. “I was in taxidermy at first but art doesn’t pay the bills.” As the man closest to Alice, he has a great scene inspiring growth for both of them garnered through a painful memory of his father.
Montana Lampert Hoover is the catalyst for change with her quest to return to the place that nurtured her and her probing curiosity about who she is and where she came from. Her performance goes from cloaked in a mistaken identity to angry and hidden within a pup tent (great zipper work!) to wide open and tear streaked as she chooses a life of hope and home. Her mother once said “hopefully the things we get right are the things that last” and Montana easily embodies all that that prayer imagines.
These are beautiful, complicated people with outsize feelings that will entertain and surprise you with secrets and revelations. Who is that Female Voice provided by BST regular Molly Parker Myers? You won’t soon forget them, which is good because I felt the hour and a half flew by and I needed more time with them. “Lewiston” is a small miracle of deeply felt, character driven Americana whose hard-won peace just might ignite your own hope.
Through 10/17 @ Bridge Street Theatre