Taylor Trensch and Sam Lilja in&nbsp;<em>Clarkston</em>&nbsp;at Dallas Theater Center

Review: Clarkston | Dallas Theater Center | Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre

The Space Between

At the Dallas Theater Center, a marvelous world premiere of Samuel D. Hunter's Clarkston finds beauty in overlooked spaces.

published Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Photo: Karen Almond
Sam Lilja and Taylor Trensch in Clarkston at Dallas Theater Center


DallasDallas Theatre Center’s A Christmas Carol continues a festive family tradition with lively songs, vibrant costumes and a large cast. You’d never know just an elevator ride away there’s a world premiere so different in scale and scope as to make the sixth floor seem like an undiscovered frontier.

Photo: Karen Almond
Taylor Trensch and Sam Lilja in Clarkston at Dallas Theater Center

But it is, theatrically speaking.

Clarkston, upstairs in the Studio Theatre space may seem small with three actors and only 90 minutes, but it’s one of the finest collaborations between a director, Davis McCallum, and a playwright, 2014 MacArthur Foundation Fellow Samuel D. Hunter, that you’re likely to see in here Big D.

As the lady at the talkback said, “We just don’t see things like that around here.”

Plot-wise it is nothing earth shatteringly new. Jake (Taylor Trensch) takes an overnight stocking job while tracing the trail of Lewis and Clark (of whom he is descended). He befriends Chris (Sam Lilja) who has a recovering meth-smoking mom, Trisha (Heidi Armbruster). The movement of the play takes place entirely inside of this triangle.

Lighting designer Eric Southern can reinforce the warehouse glare or take us out to the loading dock or even down behind the parking lot with equal ease. Set designer Andrew Boyce has given him a concrete colored cavernous canvas with a warehouse shelf that reads like some sort of castle gate of consumer goods.

It’s like an opera of the ordinary.

And director McCallum stages it with a cinematographer’s eye, ever cognizant of the subject’s relationship to their frame, in this case a well-known big box retailer, specifically. But more generally, a small town in a big country or the modern American West or the wild frontier of consumer culture or, in fact, any other contextualizations that the audience may recognize.

Playwright Hunter has a powerful way of wringing meaning out of all of the frames in which his characters find themselves trapped, literal and figurative. A few months ago, L.I.P. Service Productions had a careful production of Hunter’s The Whale about a 600-pound man on the couch in his apartment. It’s remarkable how moving a play with so little movement can be. Under McCallum and Hunter’s pristinely controlled gaze, everything has poetic potential—from shelving to cheese dip to a caught piece of caution tape fluttering in a chain link fence.

But it’s not just the physical spaces in which he is interested. Like a theatrical E. E. Cummings, playwright Hunter employs spaces that are otherwise overlooked.

By blowing through the cavernous gaps between people themselves, he sounds their resonances for us before gently, climactically closing the gap.

Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones
Samuel D. Hunter

The evening is blessed by a cast committed to the zen-like clarity of the script. Leading the charge is Trensch as the scrawny, fish-out-of-water Jake. Trensch resolutely refuses to push. Contrary to his Broadway credits, this is as un-showy and honest of a performance as they come. Meeting him in the middle of America is Lilja as the country mouse, local boy. These two counter each other like chess players keeping the proceedings light enough for laughs without ruling out gasps. The tension is admirable especially considering things get physical between them early on in an inversion of the typical relationship arch.

Thrown into their spokes is Chris’ former teen mom, Trisha, played with simmering neediness by Armbruster. If there has to be a quibble to Hunter’s script it’s that Trisha isn’t as three dimensional as the men. It doesn’t help that the comely Armbruster with designer Jessica Pabst’s tasteful attire doesn’t cut as desperate of an outline as the text would suggest. In Dallas terms, she’s more NorthPark than Walmart. Fortunately, Armbruster can pack a punch when the time comes.

It’s not a tidy ending, it’s more lifelike and truthful than that, but hopeful, as well. After the play, for a few minutes, we’re all explorers in uncharted territory, even if we’re just really trying to head home.

This play may be smaller and spicier than the seasonal sugar downstairs, but after all, everything doesn’t have to be nice. After you take care of the familial obligations, come upstairs for something special just for yourself.

After all, the best things come in small packages.


» Read our Q&A with Samuel D. Hunter Thanks For Reading

Dates, Prices, & Other Details

View the Article Slideshow

Comment on this Article

Share this article on Social Media
Click or Swipe to close
The Space Between
At the Dallas Theater Center, a marvelous world premiere of Samuel D. Hunter's Clarkston finds beauty in overlooked spaces.
by David Novinski

Share this article on Facebook
Tweet this article
Share this article on Google+
Share this article via email
Click or Swipe to close
views on theater, dance, classical music, opera and comedy performances
news & notes
reports from the local performing arts scene
features & interviews
who and what are moving and shaking in the performing arts scene
season announcements
keep up with the arts groups' upcoming seasons
listen to interviews with people in the local performing arts scene
media reviews
reviews and stories on performing arts-related film, TV, recordings and books
arts organizations
learn more about the local producing and presenting arts groups
performance venues
learn more about the theaters and spaces where the arts happen
keep up with fabulous ticket giveaways and other promotions
connect to local arts crowdfunding campaigns
post or view auditions and performing arts-related classes, services, jobs and more
about us
info on TheaterJones, our staff, what we do and how to contact us
Click or Swipe to close
First Name:
Last Name:
Date of Birth:
ZIP Code:
Your Email Address:
Click or Swipe to close
Join TheaterJones Around the Web

Follow Us on Twitter

Subscribe to our Youtube Channel

Click or Swipe to close
Search the TheaterJones Archives
Use any or all of the options below to search through all of reviews, interviews, features and special sections. If you are looking for a an event, use the calendar section of this website. This search will not search through the calendar.
Article Title Search:

Description Search:
TheaterJones Contributor:

TheaterJones Section:

Showing on or after:      Showing on or before:  
Click or Swipe to close
We welcome your comments

I am discussing:  

Your Name:
Your Email Adress:

please enter the text below and then click or tap SUBMIT :