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Thought provoking A BRIGHT NEW BOISE at Dobama

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

Samuel D. Hunter, the author of A BRIGHT NEW BOISE stated, “The baseline of a lot of my plays is the struggle for meaning and also the struggle for connection between characters.  I think it’s also definitely a product of my–not to be pretentious about it–but my spiritual journey.”  And that is an excellent preview of his play that is now in production at Dobama.

To grasp any depth of meaning from Hunter’s play requires some knowledge of an apocalyptic Rapture.  Literally the term rapture means “to catch up” or “take away.”  In the Christian sense it refers to “being caught up,” such as “we who are alive and remain will be caught up in the clouds waiting to meet the Lord.”

In A BRIGHT NEW BOISE, whose action takes place in a dingy employee break room of an arts and crafts superstore in Boise, Idaho, and what appears to be a parking lot, we meet Will.  He is a middle-aged man who applies for and gets a job as a cashier.  His past is shrouded with mystery, which is revealed as he meets the dysfunctional store’s staff.

Each character seems caught up, suspended by their unusual pasts and uncertain futures, caught up in their own rapture.  Will, we find out, is fleeing from a scandalous situation in which the head pastor of a small fundamentalist church, in which Will held a leadership position, is responsible for the death of one of his young parishioners.  Will had a role in the boy’s interactions with the pastor and, though not accused of any crime, is racked with doubts and guilt.  He expresses his thoughts and feelings in an on-going blog.

Alex, an introverted teenage boy, an aspiring musician, suffers from seizures, and hides inside a hoodie, which takes on the role of his cocoon.   He’s constantly threatening to kill himself if he can’t control the world around him.  We find out that he is Will’s son, given away by his mother’s parents when their unwed daughter disappeared.  He has been taken in by an unstable family in Boise.   Alex’s rebellious “brother” Leroy, also works in the Hobby Lobby, and tries to protect the boy from his demons, while fighting his own.

Anna, an attractive, but insecure single young woman drifts from job to job.  She hides amid the merchandise at the end of each day so she can spend time at night in the break room reading, since her father and brothers don’t approve of her being immersed in trashy books, in which she finds destruction of the heroine a positive story aspect.

Pauline, the store’s explosive manager, whose language is peppered with swear words, needs to be in control to protect against the demise of the store, which protects her from the loss of purpose in life.

Then there is the ever-on television monitor showing a satellite feed of two innocuous corporate talking heads, boosting the company’s products, except for interruptions when the weather conditions cause a switch to graphic live surgery of people caught between life and death.

Hunter’s writing examines themes within a format of social rituals, religious questions, and personal responsibilities.  The characters are not portrayed as stupid, just unable to understand why they are who they are and what their lives mean.  Each has a sense of meaninglessness, their own personal Rapture.   Will, in particular, is faced with whether he can rid himself of his guilt and loneliness, and move from his seemingly unshakable conviction that the Rapture is imminently approaching.   We are left with the man standing, pleading, “now,” “now,” “now,” waiting for some sort of sign.

Dobama’s production, under the focused direction of Nathan Motta, is compelling.  The cast is universally strong, the show well paced, and holds the audience’s attention.

Andrew Deike is marvelous as Alex.  This is an impressive performance which rips at the soul.  Confused, hiding in his hoodie, Alex begs for someone, anyone to make everything better.

Tom Woodward is Deike’s acting equal as Will.  Initially controlled to the point of a near void of affect, continually filled with angst, the performance reaches deep into the soul, exposing fear, tears and anguish.

Kim Krane shines as Anna, a wayward waif whose lack of worldliness is hidden in escapes from reality through reading and fantasizing.

Brian Devers makes Leroy clearly into a rebel with a cause, many causes. Unfortunately, none of them are focused enough to lead out of the Hobby Lobby.

Kristy Kruz’s Pauline, the driven store manager, is clearly both the laugh center written to relieve the play’s tension, and yet another person caught in the in-between.  She is character right!

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Though the message, due to the abstract nature of the concept of Rapture and religious differences may turn off some viewers, Dobama’s A BRIGHT NEW BOISE, featuring superb acting and focused directing,  is a production well worth seeing!

A BRIGHT NEW BOISE runs through November 18  at Dobama.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.