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Off-Broadway Review: “Greater Clements” at Lincoln Center Theater’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater (Through Sunday January 19, 2020)

Off-Broadway Review: “Greater Clements” at Lincoln Center Theater’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater (Through Sunday January 19, 2020)
By Samuel D. Hunter
Directed by Davis McCallum
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

After an economic downturn and the subsequent gentrification closes the mining industry in 2017 Clements, Idaho, the residents vote to unincorporate as a town. But mining continues to flourish in Samuel D. Hunter’s “Greater Clements” currently running at Lincoln Center Theater’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater: not the mining of “silver, lead, zinc, copper, little bit of gold, some molybdenum,” but the mining of the motivations and mysteries of Joe, his mother Maggie, and her high school love interest Billy whose return to Clements unleashes decades of secrets and sadness.

Joe (an introspective and fractured Edmund Donovan) is not a ‘prodigal son’ by the most common definition of the term. He did, in fact, leave his Clements, Idaho home and his mother Maggie (Judith Ivy, always perfect) behind two years after graduating from high school. He indeed squandered his resources “abroad,” but these assets were not part of an inheritance dispensed early. And he did not “come to his senses” and decide to return home, knowing his mother would welcome him with open arms and an opulent party: his mother, not hearing from Joe over an extended time, went looking for him, found him homeless in the streets of Alaska, and brought him back home. No fatted calf for this gone-astray-son suffering from a serious mental disorder.

Before leaving Clements, Joe lived with his mother above the small mine tour office and mining
Museum. Maggie managed the museum and for many years Joe conducted the tours of the Dodson Mine where his grandfather worked until his untimely death in a mine fire. At the beginning of “Greater Clements,” Joe emerges from the darkness of the mine “at a depth of about twenty-five hundred feet, or about half a mile” to deliver his tour guide script which provides significant exposition. Joe leaves Idaho after an unfortunate encounter with Olivia’s (a nagging and intrusive Nina Hellman) son Cam – an incident Maggie would rather not be disclosed.

Joe’s mental illness is not the challenge it should be to his mother and community to provide appropriate care and understanding when his behavior deviates from cultural norms. Sadly, when Joe begins to hallucinate (he sees “duck faces” on those near him), his mother and his community gear themselves up for more trouble that might bring them problems and shame. Samuel D. Hunter mines the shadowy underbelly of mental illness and exposes the crisis patients face in a society unequipped to understand them or provide them with premium care.

Despite his illness, Joe befriends Billy’s (a compassionate and fragile Ken Narasaki) granddaughter Kel (an energetic and broken Haley Sakamoto), recognizes her adolescent angst, and rescues her from suicide. Unfortunately, his heroic efforts go unrecognized as those close to him assume he has done the worst. Under Davis McCallum’s meticulous direction, Edmund Donovan brings a remarkable depth to his character, revealing the layers of Joe’s trauma and the shame he experiences when those around him – including his mother – silence him when he desperately needs to share what he is feeling and thinking.

Dane Laffrey’s multi-layered set (with elevator), the costumes by Kaye Voyce, the lighting by Yi Zhao, and the original music and sound by Fitz Patton surround the cast with the creative space to bring authenticity to their characters and further enhance the conflicts that drive the engaging plot.

Joe seems to be the only character able to help the others in his life. The remining characters “want” to help the others, but their misjudgments and missteps often do more harm than good. “Greater Clements” is a testament to what happens when societal structures and safeguards disintegrate, when mental illness challenges societal and familial norms, and what happens when the ability to cope erodes with out a safety net in place.


The cast of “Greater Clements” features Edmund Donovan, Andrew Garman, Nina Hellman, Judith Ivey, Kate MacCluggage, Ken Narasaki, and Haley Sakamoto.

The production features sets by Dane Laffrey, costumes by Kaye Voyce, lighting by Yi Zhao, and original music and sound by Fitz Patton.

“Greater Clements” runs at Lincoln Center Theater’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater (150 West 65th Street) through Sunday January 19, 2020. For the full performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit Running time is 2 hours and 55 minutes, including two intermissions.

Photo: Haley Sakamoto and Edmund Donovan in “Greater Clements.” Credit: T. Charles Erickson.
Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, January 1, 2020