Thoughts & Musings

Land of the Lost

This is theater to live and die for!

by Dave Christner, Newport Mercury
  • 14th March 201414/03/14
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If things in Idaho are anything like they appear to be in Samuel D. Hunter’s Obie-winning play, “A Bright New Boise,” now in production at 2nd Story’s DownStage theater, it goes a long way toward explaining why Papa Hemingway put a bullet through his head in Ketchum in 1961.

Hemingway, like the character Will (Nathanael Lee) in Hunter’s tale, was/ is hoping and praying for a way out of the colossal mess of his life. Papa couldn’t wait, so he took the express train using an NRA sanctioned methodology. Will, however, is waiting for the “main event.” Let me explain: Will, an Evangelical Christian is waiting for The Rapture, that comic incident when God comes down to earth to butcher all the nonbelievers and take his blessed flock into eternal paradise. Yes folks, paradise!

The lyrics from the Eagles hit, “Last Resort,” come to mind: “They call it paradise, I don’t know why, you call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.”

The song, a satiric anthem to mindless capitalism and brutal, blind faith has a lot in common with the intelligent and thought-provoking themes in Hunter’s play, themes that are explored non-judgmentally and honestly under Mark Peckham’s experienced directorial hands.

Will, you see, has come down to Boise from somewhere “up there,” or up north however you choose to look at it.

He lives in his banged up Subaru and is seeking employment in a box store labeled the Hobby Lobby, one of those palaces of consumption where you can find things you don’t really need, but somehow can’t live without. Alex (Patrick Saunders), Will’s estranged son of some 17 years, works there along with his loose cannon of a brother, Leroy (James Lucey). Forced by circumstance, Will put Alex up for adoption soon after his birth and hasn’t seen him since; the adoptive parents kept Will informed about the kid’s life in a yearly newsletter, summarizing his accomplishments, or lack thereof in Alex’s case.

To this already toxic mix, Hunter adds two more robust and well-drawn characters: Pauline (Suzy Bowen-Powers), who manages the Hobby Lobby with an iron fist and a will to match.

She has a somewhat limited vocabulary and a fondness for expressing herself in the vernacular, but she sure has a way of getting her point across. On the less lethal side is Anna (Tray Gearing), a lost soul living in the shadows of her past and as often as not within the confines of the Hobby Lobby’s transitory walls.

Most of the action (and there’s plenty of it) takes place in Set Designer Karl Pelletier’s break room at the Hobby Lobby. A distinct lack of creature comforts shows exactly how much the corporation values it employees. A large flat screen TV constantly bombards employees with corporate propaganda from a couple of “suits” played by Chris Conte and Andrew Stigler. Most of the time, the sound is off; on the single occasion when you can hear the two executives, they are touting the benefits of products that have no discernible function, but nonetheless are selling like proverbial hotcakes all across this great land. Through a cable malfunction, their mindless banter is frequently interrupted by input from the surgery channel where life and death operations are taking place. This juxtaposition of the mindless and the meaningful is no accident. The play is like that: pitting hope against the harsh reality of everyday existence; hard facts against blind faith. The “Book” against books based on scientific inquiry. Life against death.

Where do you draw the line?

Peckham’s excellent cast explores these issues with sensitivity and empathy. There are powerful performances by all; Gray and Bowen-Powers are endearing and humorous. Saunders and Lucey are compelling as the disenfranchised brothers, and Lee’s portrayal of the conflicted Will is a dramatic gem.

“A Bright New Boise” has a lot to offer: a stimulating examination of life and love and family and faith, memorable characters, humor and humanity, and a shared belief in the value of human existence, however transient it may be. This is theater to live and die for!

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