Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

Greater Clements

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - December 9, 2019

Judith Ivey
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
If you are looking for cleanly structured realism in the theater, you may well be put off by Samuel D. Hunter's Greater Clements, opening tonight at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. Viewed through this lens, you'll find several characterizations that come off as one-note, numerous plot holes, and a perplexing ending that all but capsizes the nearly three-hour enterprise. But looked at in another light, as a deep dive into the memories, dreams, and nightmares that are eating away at its central character, your experience might take you to an entirely different level of appreciation.

The very first moments of the play, the echoing mechanical sounds of an elevator platform dropping into the heart of a closed and very dark mineral mine in a collapsing small town in Idaho, suggest a descent into the subconscious. And as we gradually learn about the vicissitudes that the play's central character has endured through her 65 years on this earth, the evening takes on the quality of a psychological thriller.

As Maggie, the beset-upon woman who makes do with whatever is thrown at her, Judith Ivey is giving an exquisitely open and honest performance. Maggie is the operator of a mine tour, museum, and gift shop in the floundering fictional town of the play's title. The townspeople recently voted to throw in the towel by disincorporating. Maggie's irritating do-gooder friend Livvy (Nina Hellman) is beside herself at the very idea of dissolving the long-entrenched blue collar community, which is gradually being overrun by gentrifying interlopers. But Maggie takes it all in stride. She will simply retire and continue living in her apartment above the shop.

Maggie has other worries on her mind. This includes being the caregiver for her grown son Joe, played by Edmund Donovan, the equal of Ms. Ivey in the power of his own performance as a mentally unstable young man who, we are told, has the "social intelligence of a fifteen year old." No other specific diagnosis is provided, but clearly, keeping Joe calm and steady is a constant challenge.

It seems that Maggie has always drawn the short end of the stick when it comes to the men in her life, from her father, to her ex-husband, and now Joe. So when Billy (Ken Narasaki), an old beau, shows up and offers her a possible means of escape, she is quite enamored of the idea, even though we can see what Maggie does not, that the kind-hearted Billy carries with him his own burdens that she would most assuredly be expected to take on.

Toward the end, the play takes an ambiguous and puzzling turn that either can be viewed as an inexplicable false step or as a manifestation of Maggie's disintegrating mind. Bad things do happen to good people, the playwright seems to be saying, and we all have our breaking point. Samuel D. Hunter and his longtime collaborator, director Davis McCallum, cannot entirely prevent Greater Clements from slipping into melodrama, but as the beleaguered mother and son, Judith Ivey and Edmund Donovan are anchored in veracity.

Greater Clements
Through January 19, 2020
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center, 150 West 65th Street (Between Broadway and Amsterdam)
Tickets online and current performance schedule: