A Bright New Boise
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|Megan Brown, Ally Giesting and Ben Gierhart in Samuel D. Hunter’s
A Bright New Boise at The Bard’s Town Theatre. Photo by Doug Schutte.
If you’ve ever worked in any kind of grocery store retail outlet, you know what that break room smells like: old cigarettes and old food. There is always something you’d rather not watch on the fuzzy television: workers wander in and out, managers yell and cajole, and everyone complains. This is the setting of A Bright New Boise, opening this weekend at The Bard’s Town – a play set in the break room of the Hobby Lobby in Boise, Idaho. It resembles a proverbial hell on earth with little promise of promotion or escape. Into this world walks Will (Doug Schutte) – a bland, somewhat timid, middle aged man. He is looking for a job, but it becomes clear that he is looking for more than that. Will, we quickly learn, is an ex-attendee of a cultish church. The church is now defunct due to a disturbing crime committed by the pastor. Haunted by his past, Will has come looking for his long lost son, Alex (Ben Gierhart), who works at the store. Will is also waiting for the rapture.
What I admire about this piece and its directorial handling is that it deals with the subjects of religion, of fanaticism, and even of secularism but never tries to make fun of or judge them. It asks big questions, and it’s clear that the performers are invested in those questions. Will, we come to understand, waits for the rapture not because he is a fanatic, but because life to him seems so unbearable and empty. He has a fervent belief in something is better than nothing at all. His need for belief is so strong that when Anna (Megan Brown) invites Will to her church by saying, “We accept everyone,” Will verbally attacks her, telling her that her life and her religion are meaningless. His words are horrific and deeply bigoted, but from them the audience can understand his deeper need.
The production is bare bones and not perfect. There were several private scenes between Alex and Will that could have used more specificity in terms of space; it wasn’t always clear to me where the characters were coming from or where they were going. Yet the performances are strong and truthful. There is a scene where Will unexpectedly embraces Alex, and Alex is completely caught off guard, revealing the tenderness between them. Schutte’s performance as Will is painful. He plays him with a small town niceness that belies a deeper turmoil. Megan Brown is extremely natural as the store clerk, Anna, as are Ben Geirhart as the troubled Alex and Corey Music as the rage-filled Leroy.
In spite of its darker subject matter, A Bright New Boise is not without humor. Ally Geisting as the loud-mouthed store manager is extremely funny. More importantly, the play is about the human condition. It asks fundamental questions about why we are here and what we have to live for. I’m not sure the writer and director ever answer these questions. But they are clear on one point: Surely there is more to life than the end of the world. This is the kind of independent theater that we need to keep doing – maybe not completely polished, but brave, funny and intelligently rendered.
July 26-28, Aug 2-4, Aug 9-11 (7:30 p.m. all shows)
Pay-What-You-Can for Thursday shows
$15/$16 for Fri/Sat shows