A Bright New Boise
nytheatre.com review by Kristin Skye Hoffmann
September 15, 2010
It is rare when all the elements of a theatrical production fall perfectly into place, the script, cast, direction, technical elements and even venue all aligning to make a flawless evening of theatre. It's a lot to ask, but that is precisely what has happened with Partial Comfort Productions' A Bright New Boise by Samuel D. Hunter.
We begin as Will—played with subtlety and an extraordinary amount of heart by Andrew Garman—is finishing up his interview with the manager of a Hobby Lobby, Pauline (the brilliant Danielle Slavick). (Hobby Lobby is a national arts and crafts supply chain headquartered in Oklahoma City.) He has come to this particular Hobby Lobby not only to seek employment, but to begin a relationship with Alex (Matt Farabee), his anxiety-ridden, artistic son whom he gave up for adoption several years ago. Alex works there along with his adopted brother Leroy (played with superb confidence and attitude by John Patrick Doherty). Both brothers are artists who have strong convictions and a deep love for one another and the relationship that Doherty and Farabee have created is a very special one that exists both on and off the page.
Will is also looking to find refuge since his evangelical Christian Church has disbanded, its leader facing charges in the death of a young patron who was questioning his faith. He is a sweet man, quiet and reserved but with powerful convictions. He is living out of his car and keeps a smile on his face even when he feels the most miserable. He finds a kindred spirit in Anna, who is played with adorable grace and humor by Sarah Nina Hayon. She loves to read but is ridiculed for it at home and he is writing a blog about the Rapture and can't get an internet connection at his current residence, so they find each other after hours in the break room. As we move through the play we see that each character is seeking something more than a minimum wage "joe job" for their future. Leroy is an aspiring artist, Anna escapes into books that she finishes whether she enjoys them or not, Pauline pours herself into the management of this craft store that she single-handedly restructured, and of course Alex, like many teenagers, seeks an antidote to his life of "meaninglessness" which the arrival of his estranged birth father does little to quell, that is until he finds out about his sordid evangelical past and begins to probe him for answers to the meaning of life.
Seems like a lot to take in, right? It doesn't feel that way. Each incident that occurs over the course of this play is easily absorbed.
The ensemble is perfectly cast and I don't think I can say enough about each individual actor's work. Each character is beautifully fleshed out and real and the actors portraying them deliver honest, intelligent performances that draw us right into their world. Their world is the break room of a Hobby Lobby in Boise, Idaho and the parking lot outside where some life-changing events just happen to occur. Jason Simms's dual set design is perfect, not only in its specificity and detail but in its ability to assist in delivering moments. A large window on the back wall makes for a truly perfect comic device as we get a teeny peek into several characters' past lives before the scenes actually begin. The set paired with the lighting and sound design, by Raquel Davis and M. Florian Staab respectively, create a true slice of life.
Davis McCallum's direction is my favorite kind: simplistic and rich. It's admirable when the show is so honest and smooth that we don't even realize a director has ever had a hand in it. Even his beautifully orchestrated transitions between scenes are appropriate and sometime speak volumes about the characters in them.
Partial Comfort Productions has found a real gem with this new play and another at their venue, the Wild Project. I had not previously had the pleasure of seeing a show at this small comfortable theatre, but I look forward to seeing something there again soon.
Samuel D. Hunter has offered us a humorous and touching exploration of faith and family, but not just the blood-relative variety, the kind that comes from the people who surround us in life, at work, at school, at church; the family that make this life beautiful. It also looks at fear and doubt and all the things that make it difficult to see that beauty. It analyzes the people, the good and genuine people, who are so miserable in their lives that they focus completely on what is coming after it. The people who believe that the life they have been given is so full of garbage and sadness that there is no way that this could be the "gift from God" they feel they were promised so it must be the heaven that lies after it. It is haunting and painful and empathetic. It is all summed up when Will says, "There are greater things in life. There have to be."
I encourage you to see this production now while the tickets are affordable. This production deserves an off-Broadway run and if they get it, I know that I will most certainly be in the audience.