Review: Hyde Park Theatre’s “A Bright New Boise”

(This review is by American-Statesman freelancer Cate Blouke)

Samuel D. Hunter wants to make you uncomfortable. He also wants to comment on corporate America, religious fanaticism, family relationships, and the nature of art – which is a lot of ground to cover in a 90-minute show.

“A Bright New Boise,” playing now through Oct. 25 at Hyde Park Theatre, tries to do too much.

Set in the dingy break room of a Hobby Lobby in Boise, Idaho, the play brings together a hodgepodge of quirky characters and big themes that struggle to cohere in a digestible way.

First, there’s the deliberate discomfort: Hunter’s script calls for a video feed of surgical procedures to intermittently appear on a TV in the break room. It’s a big screen, positioned so that there’s no real escape from the images other than to look away. And it’s a strange experience to sit through a play and deliberately avoid looking at the actors for long stretches of time.

At least the video makes the characters uncomfortable, too, but it’s never particularly clear why Hunter has included it in the play. Unless, of course, the videos serve as an extension of his Leroy character (Chase Brewer), an art-school student who deliberately makes people uncomfortable.

Chief among those victims is Will (Benjamin Summers), the lead character, whose tarnished past with a religious cult functions as the mystery that drives the narrative. After something scandalous happens up north, Will comes to Boise to start over and try to cultivate a relationship with his estranged son Alex (Nate Jackson).

Jackson and Brewer (recently seen in Capital T Theatre’s production of “Punkplay”) offer another excellent set of performances together. While Brewer takes on the role of assertive and over-protective older brother, Jackson’s sullen teenage moodiness contrasts with the typical aggression of his recent roles.

Summers stalwartly carries the narrative burden and convincingly shifts between awkward insecurity and vehement fanaticism as the tension builds. Perhaps the most interesting character, though, is the one we know least about: the socially inept but exuberant Anna (Katie Kohler).

Mark Pickell’s set is outstandingly realistic – creating a point-perfect replica of every depressing break room ever, right down to the tatty fake plant and passive aggressive refrigerator notes.

Although the show has a fair bit of comic relief, primarily in the form of the harried and foul-mouthed store manager Pauline (Rebecca Robinson), the overall effect is unfortunately haphazard and unsatisfying.

“A Bright New Boise” continues through Oct. 25.

Review: Mary Moody Northen Theatre’s “Love and Information”

(This review is by American-Statesman freelance writer Claire Canavan)

In the modern world, information flows freely and it’s easy to get swept up in the current.

In “Love and Information,” British playwright Caryl Churchill explores the ways relationships function (or don’t) within the fragmented nature of contemporary life. David M. Long directs the play’s regional premiere at St. Edward’s University, now running through October 5.

Jeopardy-style trivia questions greet the audience before the show begins, but soon the questions scroll across the screens so quickly they become a blur of nonsense. The actors emerge for a wild opening dance number featuring neon hula-hoops and a song about DNA. The show then abruptly shifts into realism, with a short but punchy scene about a couple with a secret.

Aly Jones and Jake McVicker in the regional premiere of "Love And Information" by Carly Churchill at the Mary Moody Northen Theatre, St. Edward's University. Photo by Bret Brookshire.
Aly Jones and Jake McVicker in the regional premiere of “Love And Information” by Carly Churchill at the Mary Moody Northen Theatre, St. Edward’s University. Photo by Bret Brookshire.

These tonal shifts — from the surreal to the familiar — are a signature of Churchill’s work, and part of the fun of the show. Like many of her other plays, “Love and Information” does not rely on a linear plot. The show unfurls as a series of over fifty different vignettes, some almost overlapping, that show us slices of present-day life.

A woman on vacation in a remote location worries about her inability to access the Internet. A group of friends watch a wedding video and lament that they can’t remember anything from that day that wasn’t recorded. A couple fears climate change but is paralyzed by inaction. Some scenarios are poignant, some are funny, and others are downright bizarre, but they are all held together by Churchill’s snappy dialogue.

Under Long’s direction, the fast pace never lets up, and the staging is dynamic and physical. The actors are constantly in motion. Veteran actors Janelle Buchanan and Rick Roemer ground their scenes with the weight of experience, while the student cast members bring an infectious energy to each scenario.

The structure of “Love and Information” reinforces the content. The characters struggle to process information much in the same way the audience must absorb the fragmented style of the show. The randomness of the way the scenes unfold mimics the disjointed nature of web surfing. It is an of-the-moment piece that mixes social commentary with old-fashioned human relationships. It is a whirlwind, and one well-worth getting swept up by.

 “Love and Information” continues through October 5, Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Mary Moody Northen Theatre, 3001 S. Congress Ave.  $8-$22.