BCT's Lewiston and Clarkston: Searching for Self in Spaces That Divide Us 

Boise Contemporary Theater mounts must-see dramas penned by Idaho native and MacArthur Genius Grant awardee Sam Hunter.

click to enlarge lewiston_rehearsal1.jpg

Boise Contemporary Theater

Destiny. Serendipity. Auspiciousness. Boise Contemporary Theater's much-anticipated productions of Lewiston and Clarkston, a pair of Idaho-centric dramas that The New York Times raved about as "perfect dramatic equilibrium," will have all of that when they debut in Boise this month. But mounting two plays that focus on parallel towns in repertory—Saturday, Feb. 9 through Saturday, March 9—is written in the stars; specifically, the stars that shine over Idaho's enigmatic and elusive Camas Prairie.

When a groundbreaking production pairing the two plays lit up New York City's theater scene last fall, The Times critic Douglas Clement penned that Lewiston and Clarkston, named for the Camas Prairie communities which straddle the Idaho/Washington border, are "haunted by the physical psychological imprints of the American west." But producing Lewiston and Clarkston off Broadway is one thing. Bringing MacArthur Genius Grant winner and Idaho native Sam Hunter's plays back to his home state is another, perhaps even more formidable venture. That said, BCT Founding Artistic Director Matthew Cameron Clark embraces what is certain to be a must-see event.

"Sam is a brilliant, brilliant playwright; and his connection to BCT is obviously a big part of what first connected us," said Clark, noting that BCT mounted the world premiere of Hunter's play Norway eight years ago. "And now, Sam is one of the most commissioned playwrights in the nation. We've been trying to get him back here for a long time. Lewiston and Clarkston were produced in New York to great critical success last fall. And now? Well, in a large part, they're coming home. For audiences here in Boise, there's definitely going to be some pretty quick access to some of Sam's characters in these stories. Sam's subtle, nuanced moments open up connections between people that... well, let me put it this way. I just don't know anybody else that does it the way that Sam does it."

click to enlarge E.B.. Hinnant and Hunter Hoffman - BCT
  • BCT
  • E.B.. Hinnant and Hunter Hoffman

Lewiston and Clarkston will be stand-alone, 90-minute productions at BCT, to be considered on their own merits. But though each play has its own cast and narrative arc, the stories are indelibly linked, not unlike the cities that share their names.

"The experience of seeing each play is complete unto itself. And you don't need to see them in any particular order," said Clark. Lewiston and Clarkston will be performed, in rotation, over a four-week run at BCT. That said, audiences will also have the opportunity to see both productions on the same day, in matinee and evening performances, on three Saturdays: Feb. 22, March 2 and March 9.

"There's a beautiful resonance between the two plays that adds to the overall experience if you see both," said Clark.

click to enlarge Hunter Hoffman and E.B. Hinnant - BCT
  • BCT
  • Hunter Hoffman and E.B. Hinnant

Both plays feature characters that are descendants of the border cities' namesakes, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. But Lewiston and Clarkston are very much about what it is to be a 21st-century American and, more particularly, what it is to be defined by where we choose to live and die.

"For me, these stories grapple with epic questions: What does it mean to search for your own history? What is it that connects you to the land? Now, layered throughout all of that is Sam Hunter's context of an intimate family drama," said Lillian Meredith, director of both Lewiston and Clarkston at BCT. "I think these stories address this incredible, vast theme: What is the American dream in the 21st century?"

Meredith was an assistant director of the 2018 production of Lewiston in New York City and was the first person that Clark thought of to mount Lewiston and Clarkston at BCT.

click to enlarge Tess Makena and Tom Ford - BCT
  • BCT
  • Tess Makena and Tom Ford

"This is a pretty tremendous responsibility. I want this production to be everything that the New York production was, and so much more. These beautiful plays spoke to New York audiences, without a doubt. But how thrilling it is to speak to an Idaho audience?" she asked.

The centerpiece of Lewiston is Alice, a woman in her 70s who scrapes by selling fireworks from a roadside table draped in dusty red, white and blue bunting. At BCT, she'll be portrayed by Sun Valley resident and veteran actress Patsy Wygle.

"We're totally different casts between the two productions, but we had a pretty special experience when everyone came together for a read-through of both scripts," said Wygle. "Up until then, I hadn't even read the other play. What an experience. I think everyone was pretty blown away by the connections. It was riveting."

click to enlarge E.B. Hinnant, Lillian Meredith, Patricia Wygle and BCT Founding Artistic Director Matthew Cameron Clark - GEORGE PRENTICE
  • George Prentice
  • E.B. Hinnant, Lillian Meredith, Patricia Wygle and BCT Founding Artistic Director Matthew Cameron Clark

New York-based actor E.B. Hinnant portrays Jake in Clarkston, a young man who spends his days moving crates of goods at a Clarkston Costco.

"Jake's not from this part of the country but has always been fascinated by Lewis and Clark, and even idolizes them," said Hinnant. "But in today's world, and particularly at this Clarkston Costco, Jake is a very complicated little man."

Therein lies Sam Hunter's genius for creating characters that yearn for a sense of identity and belonging.

"We've brought a lot of our own personal perspectives into our rehearsals," said Hinnant. "Yes, we've brought ourselves but it's also about what runs through the veins of our characters. That's our responsibility. And what a responsibility to bring these shows to Idaho."

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