The cast of “Grinder’s Stand” (left to right, seated) Nancy Rothman, Steven Patterson, Stephen Jones; (standing) Jon Lee, William Dobbins, Phillip X. Levine, Brett Owen. (photo: V. James dePerna)
Review by Greg Haymes
It’s been 36 years since Oakley Hall III’s play “Grinder’s Stand” had its premiere at Lexington Conservatory Theatre, an upstart summer company in the Catskills, which later morphed into Albany’s Capital Repertory Theatre.
And quite a lot of what happened in 1979 now seems dated, totally obsolete or just downright silly. The debut of “The Dukes of Hazzard,” Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park, President Jimmy Carter attacked by a swamp rabbit… “Grinder’s Stand” is not one of those things.
The eloquent verse play takes place in 1809, chronicling the final days of Meriwether Lewis (deftly portrayed by William Dobbins), who famously co-led the Lewis & Clark expedition six years previous. “Any man who would walk to Oregon and back would have to have his brain – and his testicles – strapped on pretty tight,” as the play points out.
But a desperate Lewis – now Governor of Upper Louisiana on the verge of bankruptcy having payment of his bills denied by President James Madison – must deal with a number of obstacles from within is own inner circle, as well as the federal government and his own laudanum addiction as he makes his way to Washington, DC to plead his case for more funds. And for Lewis, it proves to be a life-or-death trek even more hazardous than his previous expedition to the west coast.
Ambition, poison, politics and betrayal all play a part, but ultimately it’s a play about dreams that evaporate like morning fog and the loss of nameless things.