REVIEW: SUDS Presents 'A Bright New Boise'
By Harrison Dumesich
How well do you know your co-workers? At a new job making conversation in a dreary break-room with complete strangers. This is a set-up I believe many of us can relate to. We take people at their word about their past, but none of us truly know each other. Operating on assumptions, most of us go about our day without considering what others may believe or if they are who they say they are.
Religious fervour, irreverence, discount art supplies, these are some of the features of the SUDS production of A Bright New Boise, written by Samuel D. Hunter. Directed by Fred Pryce, this play and its cast tell the story of Will (played by Callum McManis) trying to reconnect with his son Alex (Max MacDonald) after the death of a Danny (a young man in his evangelical church). The death having his indirect involvement, he is struck by a sense of guilt and trauma and is desperate to begin a new life. Will gets a job at the same Hobby Lobby as his son and tries his best to speak to him. The relationship they form and the interactions Will has with the characters in the play teach us about Hunter’s interpretation of modern America, family and heaven.
The play starts off with Will reciting “Now” over and over delivered in a desperate and fearful tone. We learn later that this is Will calling for a biblical rapture. The rapture that he imagines will engulf all of the world and replace it with a “city made of pure light”. The next scene is of Will being interviewed for a position as a Hobby Lobby employee by Pauline, (played by Isabelle Olsson) he hides the details of his involvement with the “New Life” Church as the death of one of its congregants has become a national news story. Pauline is keen on making sure there is no unionizing amongst her staff and her sole ambition is the success of this Hobby Lobby. Along his way to reconnecting with his son, Will interacts with the other staff of the store, Anna and Leroy.
Anna (played by Jacinta Lin), a talkative and inquisitive girl, meets Will in the break room at night. They both hid during closing, Will to gain access to internet to write his blog and Anna to read without judgement from her family. Anna has been fired from a myriad of large chain stores, Costco, Home Depot and Wal-Mart in the like, the mention of these stores is one of Hunter’s nods to the inhumanity of corporate America.
Leroy (played by Max Seppelt) is comedic relief for the play, his ‘artwork’ of deliberately uncomfortable interactions and profane t-shirts adds levity and a bit of hope to Hunter’s America. Leroy is also Alex’s foster brother and is very cunning about Will’s presence. Will is suspicious of Will, because he has heard from his parents the truth about Will, and about the curious ways of the New Life Church. Leroy looks out for Alex, who is subject to panic attacks that have been acquired from a childhood of abuse.
The backdrop and relationships are intended by Hunter to illicit a superior feeling by audience members, as he imagines most of people watching will think they are automatically deeper, with more interesting jobs and places to live than Boise, Idaho and at a Hobby Lobby. But through Hunter’s writing and this stellar reproduction of the play, any crowd can be drawn in by the humanity and truth of these characters, especially in the intense and at some times confrontational performances by McManis and MacDonald as Will and Alex.
As Will’s relationships with these characters advance, so does the progression of Will’s desperate intervals of recitations of Now, indicating his growing frustration with his inner turmoil and the ugliness of the world around him. Will comes in late at night to use his computer to novelize his tale of rapture in blog form, this is the hidden escape he has and is a symbol for modern technology and how its presence won’t stop the existential and quotidian dread of humanity. The small TV screen on the set also speaks to the ubiquity of screens in modern life. The screens show unsolicited surgical videos randomly and shift back to a Hobby Lobby product advertisement at the junction of dramatic moments. The strange channel choice and timing of flipping is written off by the characters, but signals to the viewer both the presence of an omnipotent body or the hallucination of Will in the midst of his rapture longing subconscious.
A Bright New Boise, like any good play, transcends its figurative location to address universal truths. A title taken from Huxley’s A Brave New World, indicating a perversion of something originally hopeful. This student production of a very intense and meaningful play, made me forget it was a student play. The set was designed with all of the trappings of a mid 2000’s break room of a small discount art store. The midwestern American accents of these young Australian actors were spot on. The play’s motifs and pathos were unmistakable and the honesty and believability of the performances was inspiring.
The lighting sequence that corresponds with the sound of trucks whirring by on a freeway amongst other small details were beautiful and added depth and dimension to the locales. The Cellar Theatre’s capacity for light cues and the shifting of hues during violent or dramatic parts of the play also aided in the story telling.
The story being one of a dissatisfaction and desperation for something greater, this sense can be seen in each of the characters, Leroy, the artiste provocateur, Anna, who wants her fiction to end with a satisfying drama, Pauline, who wants order out of chaos, Alex, who wants a stable future, and Will, who wants a new divine world, promised to him in his scriptures. This play produced by university students is powerful, convincing and ultimately does service to the written intent for the play. I highly suggest for anyone to go see it.