(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. www.hydeparktheatre.org