In many of his plays, Samuel D. Hunter investigates the complexities of living in and around small towns in Idaho. He’s originally from a small Idaho town himself (Moscow, to be exact). He takes the charming idealism and sense of community we associate with life in small-town America and turns it on its head, showing us characters living with an overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness. He’s best known for his plays A Bright New Boise, which won the 2011 Obie Award, and The Whale, which won the 2013 Drama Desk Award and Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play—both which investigate characters living in small towns struggling to find connection and meaning in desolate circumstances.
Likewise with his two newest plays, Lewiston and Clarkston (which had a reading in last year’s Contemporary American Voices Festival, and premiered earlier this year at the Dallas Theatre Center). Both are in part inspired by the Lewis and Clark expedition commissioned by Thomas Jefferson shortly after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend, William Clark, led a group of U.S. Army volunteers across the western half of the continent to explore the newly acquired territory and map a practical route across the continent. In Lewiston (a small Idaho town named after Meriwether Lewis), Hunter looks at the cultural mythology surrounding Lewis and Clark’s journey, and what it means to us today. Long Wharf’s Literary Manager Christine Scarfuto sat down with Hunter to ask him about the play:
Q: What initially drew you to the story of Lewis and Clark? What have you found are the most resonant aspects of their journey for us today?
A: The plays actually started in a really odd way. A few years ago I was driving around northern Idaho with my husband John, and as we passed through Lewiston and Clarkston he jokingly said, “You should write a play called Lewiston and a play called Clarkson.” And for whatever reason, it just immediately made a ton of sense to me. Maybe because there’s so much dramatic tension already built in—the romanticized West and its historical reality, pioneering and colonialism, a mountain and a Costco. And, in a way, I don’t think the plays really draw on or take a lot of inspiration from the history itself. I did some research, and growing up next to the Lewis and Clark trail I felt like I had some relationship to it. But the plays are more about what we do with that history in 2016, how we’re both inspired by it and oppressed by it.