A Bright New Boise, at the Firehouse Theatre, is an emotional look at the nature of belief, guilt, and the mundane juxtaposed with the confrontation of the ugly.
In the Firehouse Theater, as people wait for the play to begin, the sound of a radio occasionally switching stations from pop to evangelical worship to static plays in loops, punctuated periodically with loudspeaker requests for Mandy to report to Register 4. The stage is set to mimic a boring employee lounge, its faded yellow and blue walls adorned with Worker’s Rights posters, the clock on the wall says Hobby Lobby, and above the stage fluorescent lights hover like sad clouds, cold and grey. As the play begins, though, these lights dim, and in the corner of the stage, “outside” in the parking lot, a man stands, his arms outstretched, and he pleads to the sky, “Now. Now. Now.” This is the opening to A Bright New Boise, directed by Morrie Piersol.
The lights black out, and when they perk back up, we see the same man, Will, finishing up his Hobby Lobby interview. Nervously, he admits to removing church information from his resume, but luckily all is OK, and he gets the job. In the background, the employee lounge TV shows…surgery of someone’s ears being pinned back?!
This odd juxtaposition of the awful (live surgery TV) with the mundane (Hobby Lobby) will become a theme of A Bright New Boise, and is incredibly apparent within the first few minutes of the play when Will abruptly confesses to awkward young cashier Alex, that, in a Star Wars-like move, he is his father. However, unlike in Star Wars, after this abrupt confession given seconds after meeting Alex, the audience is perturbed, disturbed even, rather than shocked. Is this the truth? Things get even weirder when we learn that Will is secretly hiding in Hobby Lobby after hours to take advantage of their WiFi in the employee lounge in order to blog. Who is this parking-lot-praying Will, and what does he want in Boise?
This play is a little complicated, and I don’t want to just narrate the whole thing for you, dear reader. In short, Will is relocating from a nondenominational evangelical church situation that involves some manslaughter charges. The main theme of the play emerges as an interwoven examination of the nature of belief, guilt, and the mundane juxtaposed with the confrontation of the ugly. Leroy, cavalier Hobby Lobby art supply expert played both funnily and very seriously by Jacob Pennington, explains the last with his homemade shirts featuring sayings like “You will eat your children” and elegantly, “Fuck.” Customers have to confront the uncomfortable before they can locate their craft supplies, he explains smugly.
Then there’s sweet, awkward Anna (Audra Honaker), another Hobby Lobby employee, who charms the audience with references to what might be a difficult existence; she can’t even read a book at home without being teased about it by her father and brothers. Will’s son Alex struggles to create music that’s unique, while his brother Leroy painfully and protectively stands in Will’s way, refusing to let him get too close to Alex. As the Hobby Lobby employees interact with each other, conflict continues to escalate, and poor Pauline, the manager (Jill Bari Steinberg), just doesn’t have time to deal with another conflict resolution, but by God, it has to be done, and it is not going to be pretty as secrets are revealed.
Ultimately, the play comes down to the crescendo question of the nature of belief. “There are greater things in life. THERE HAVE TO BE,” implores Will as he rages. And that is the thought the audience is pretty much left with when the fluorescent lights flip to black. There have to be better things than this, better things than accidents, better than crushing guilt, better things than being middle aged and trying to connect with a lost son when you feel like you’ve failed at everything, better things than eeking out meaningless existences, better things than fluorescent craft stores selling foam balls at a highway robbery markup, there has to be something better to make this all bearable. ‘If there isn’t anything better, then how can we enjoy this life at all?’ seems to be Will’s final question.
And this is where I actually wished for a different ending. I wanted Leroy to say, angrily, that SO WHAT. So what if this is all there is–you can go right now to connect with your son who needs you. SO WHAT if the Rapture isn’t coming right now like you want. You have this moment, here, now. Live it.
But he didn’t. Is that the play’s intention, for me to think that at the end, to make that statement for myself? In the end, we have confronted the ugly and the unbearable, and in the end, we are all the same, just a little more desperate, and a little more defeated. Samuel D. Hunter, the playwright, wrote a good play, but it is undeniably kind of a downer.
Yes, this is a pretty bleak play. This is not to say it’s not performed well, though! Young Nathaniel Smith offers a wide range of skills on stage as Alex, and his panic attacks are hard to watch because they are performed with an intensity that works. Billy Christopher Maupin as Will is adept at switching between an awkward sense of self-awareness and sweaty-scared-awkward Guy With Something To Hide. You don’t necessarily love Will, but Maupin plays up his fallible confused humanity with a sort of tenderness. Really, that’s what it all comes down to: this play looks at the uglier sides of the human experience, and watching the play forces a sort of confrontation. You can do with that confrontation what you will.
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Why you should see A Bright New Boise
For those with an evangelical background, there’s a certain connection you’re bound to make to some themes. If you’re interested in the nature of belief and life, go see it. The play is, yes, kind of a downer, but it’s also grappling with some heavy stuff, there in that Hobby Lobby. If you don’t mind it rattling around in your head a few days later–then go see it, it’ll stick with you. And that’s what plays are supposed to do sometimes. You’ll feel things.
Why you should see something else
You want to spend your evening not being depressed about the nature of belief and the impact that belief inevitably has to have on our lives and choices. Perhaps you would care for something more upbeat? More laughs? Might I suggest Regrets Only?