2nd Story’s ‘Boise’ an Intense Ride
by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
Playwright Samuel D. Hunter sure packs a lot into 80 minutes. His “A Bright New Boise,” now at Warren’s 2nd Story Theatre, takes us on a fast-paced ride with a religious fanatic who tries to establish a relationship with the teenage son he gave up for adoption.
Will, who was involved with an evangelical church where a young gay boy died, turns up in Boise and takes a job at the crafts store where his 17-year-old son Alex works, so he can get to know him. Will tries to make light of his affiliation with the scandal-ridden congregation, all the while spending his nights at the Hobby Lobby writing a blog about the Rapture.
He lives in his ’94 Subaru, but otherwise seems like a nice guy, if a little tightly wound. He’s trying to do the right thing by Alex, and even develops a budding relationship with Anna, a flighty co-worker who also hangs around the store at night, reading.
But as the play unfolds, things go badly at work, go badly with Alex and with Anna. When Anna, played by a warm but ditzy Tray Gearing, invites Will to go with her to her church, which is Lutheran, Will loses it and starts ranting about how Anna’s life is meaningless without the word of God, and how her church is no good.
For most of the play, the issue of religion is a constant undercurrent. Everyone in Boise seems to know about Will’s church and the scandal that is sending the pastor to jail. Alex’s brother, Leroy, even gets on the PA system and announces to shoppers that a Hobby Lobby employee was involved in the whole mess.
For most of the time, though, Will is on simmer, just avoiding the whole affair — until he snaps and we see that he’s a doctrinaire whack-job.
But this play is more about the way it unfolds than the evils of fundamentalism. It’s about small-town life and quirky characters like Pauline, Will’s all-business boss, who has a fondness for peppering her conversation with F-bombs.
Pauline, played with wit and a certain amount of self-deprecation by Suzy Bowen-Powers, is all about the bottom line. She single- handedly brought the store back from the brink and turned it into a well-oiled machine. So she’s not about to let Will ruin that with his religious beliefs and his awkward attempts to win over his emotionally fragile son.
Much of the play is about Hunter’s vivid writing, and his ability to capture these dead-end souls with such insight and accuracy.
The show, under the careful guidance of director Mark Peckham, takes place in 2nd Story’s new 80-seat basement performance space, where set designer Karl Pelletier has recreated the kind of tacky break room you might find in any big-box store, complete with flat-screen TV spewing tips about products.
And the fine cast is perfect for a shift at the check-out counter. Nathanael Lee manages to get across Will’s sweet side, but never lets go of the feeling that something is eating him, that he’s just not able to accept a world that will soon go poof.
And Patrick Saunders is terrific as Alex, putting his emotions right out there. At one point, Saunders, whose Alex is prone to panic attacks, completely unravels as two salesmen blather away on the TV.
James Lucey rounds out the cast as scrappy Leroy, who will do anything to protect his adopted brother.