Clarkston

Hey NYC: If you aren’t too basic to cross the river, here’s what you can expect from a real-life upstate cultural experience.

By Andrew Andrews

Brian Patterson and Hunter Ringsmith star in Samuel D. Hunter’s Clarkston at Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill. Original photos by John Sowle.

Chris is training Jake to be an overnight Costco stocker in Clarkston, Washington, across the river from where Lewis & Clark camped on their journey to the Pacific Ocean in the early 1800s.

Jake, who recently arrived from Connecticut, suffers from a disease that causes him to have involuntary body movements, causing him to drop products as he unloads them from the skid.

“Maybe this isn’t the best job for you,” Chris says, before agreeing to help cover up Jake’s illness so he can keep his only prospect for employment.

When Jake (who’s been openly gay forever) and Chris (who is “only out to the people he wants to”) realize they’re attracted to each other, a romantic tension undermines their ability to work together.

Then Chris’s mom shows up, claiming she’s been clean from her meth addiction for six months, and begs Chris to let her back into his life.

Following last year’s production of Samuel D. Hunter’s Lewiston, Bridge Street Theatre opens this season with the playwright’s companion play. Although the stories have different settings and characters, both feature ancestors of the legendary Corps of Discovery Expedition in western towns named after the famous explorers.

Tara Franklin (left) completes the cast, directed by Daniel Elihu Kramer, with set and lighting design by John Sowle.

From the very first scene, Clarkston wraps its fingers around you with subtle tension and an uneasy sense of humor that doesn’t hold tight, but never lets go.

On an elegantly simple set that organizes ready-made props into a clean, Zen-like arrangement to contrast and heighten the drama before it, the performers portray their characters with all the authenticity and depth commanded by the script.

Although I felt the casting was excellent, my partner thought one of the actors seemed a little older than the character they portrayed.

My only complaint about this story is that Jake—defined more as an antihero than an antagonist—seems to have more lines and stronger point-of-view than protagonist Chris, making it difficult to subconsciously identify the plot as either the “man going on a journey” or the “stranger coming into town” variety, and to assign emotional allegiance accordingly.

Perhaps that’s the playwright’s intent, but from my perspective, it’s the only thing standing between this production and an extra perfect star.

Before the show I was thinking about all of the tourists from New York City who take the train to Hudson for the unrealistic “Upstate Experience” that’s been manufactured for them along Warren Street with its overpriced restaurants, antique shops and art galleries.

Meanwhile, the most authentic small town experience sits just across the river—a short and scenic ride over the Rip Van Winkle Bridge—at Bridge Street Theatre’s production of Clarkston.

If you’re a city-slicker searching for a real slice of mainland America, now’s the time to catch it while you can.

4

Andrew Andrews attended Clarkston at Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill on Friday, April 29, 2022 @ 7:30pm to write this review.