Preview of Lewiston at Long Wharf Theatre
Martin Moran is back at the Long Wharf where he has acted before some years ago and also work-shopped one of his own plays. An actor who has appeared in a wide variety of parts in over thirty years in theater, Moran has achieved renown as a memoirist able to recreate personal experience as enthralling monologues on the stage. His first effort, The Tricky Part, based on his prose memoir of the same name, won an Obie Award and two Drama Desk nominations in 2004. It’s a play about a seduction that occurred while he was a youth at a camp and then, years later, his path to confrontation with his abuser, who had been jailed for his sex crimes. Tricky stuff, indeed, but Moran has shown himself capable of finding the human dimension in uncomfortable material. His subsequent play, All the Rage, opened Off-Broadway in 2013 and investigates the problem of anger in a quest to understand his own lack of anger toward his abuser.
Moran first began writing for the stage in his thirties, finding “an imperative to tell certain stories.” His stories tend to draw on themes of forgiveness and redemption that derive their spirit from his Catholic upbringing, while his interest in writing comes from his father, a journalist in Denver where Moran grew up. He was, he says, “always in love with storytelling” and was very conscious of performing as an aspect of storytelling, realizing that “if you can talk it and walk it, you can write it.” Having the confidence that comes with building a successful acting career, Moran found himself able to write parts based on his own experience that he could bring to life on stage. He’s at work now on a commissioned play that, far from being a monologue, has 11 characters, none of which he’s the right age to play.
At Long Wharf he’s in rehearsals for the world premiere of a new play by MacArthur prize-winning playwright Samuel D. Hunter, perhaps best known for his play The Whale which won a Lucille Lortel Award for Best Play in 2013. Lewiston, Hunter’s new play, is set in Idaho, and Moran says the mid-west setting is one he feels very familiar with. Alice, an older woman, and Connor, her younger male roommate, played by Moran, live on a farm where they run a fireworks stand and are visited by the woman’s grand-daughter. With Alice and Connor willing to sell off their land for a condo in a new development, one of the issues in the play becomes a generational clash over land and the question of how to develop a plot that dates back to Lewis and Clark’s famed expedition.
Moran attended a reading of Hunter’s script in New York and loved it immediately. “Sam is a wonderful writer for the theater,” Moran said, with characters that “are very complex human beings” drawn with “compassion and empathy.” Long Wharf Artistic Director Gorden Edelstein likened Hunter’s work to staples of American theater such as William Inge and Tennessee Williams “in his delicate empathy with all the characters in his stories.”
The cast had been in rehearsals for a week when I spoke to Moran. When I asked if things were going as he expected, he replied that he expected the cast to dig deep into the characters and that’s exactly what they were doing, led by director Eric Ting who “understands the play and its characters so very well.” When I asked about surprises, Moran cited the presence and input of the fire marshal since there is considerable use of fireworks in the show. He also expressed surprise about which lines get laughs. “It’s a very funny play, very human,” but the laughs aren’t easily predictable.
Moran finds the fate of his character Connor “exciting and frightening.” “A day arrives—and everything changes,” he says. And that’s one of the lasting points of plays like Hunter’s that Moran finds so admirable: they let us see how people change.
Drawing upon the changes he has experienced in his changing career as both actor and writer, Moran, now in his mid-fifties, is well poised to portray the kind of change that gives a new lease on life in middle-age. Lewiston is about the kinds of challenges that come from family and from those around us, and about the kinds of challenges the future presents to the legacy of America.
By Samuel D. Hunter
Directed by Eric Ting
Cast: Randy Danson (Alice), Arielle Goldman (Marnie), Martin Moran (Connor), and Lucy Owen (Female Voice). The creative team includes Wilson Chin (sets), Paloma Young (costumes), Matthew Richards (lighting), Brandon Wolcott (sound), and Charles M. Turner III (stage manager). Casting is by Calleri Casting. The production is sponsored by Whitney Center and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The production runs from April 6 to May 1, 2016 on Stage II. Tickets are $26 to $85. Press opening takes place April 13 at 7:30 p.m.