A Christian soul
by Richard Dodds
Just as there is a methodology of self-termination called "suicide by cop," it's possible to see the religious concept of The Rapture as "suicide by God." Born-again believers already know they are headed for heaven upon their demise, but some want to hurry up the process. "Now, now, now," shouts Will, the main character in A Bright New Boise, more as an imperative than a prayer that God should end his personal unhappiness through universal cataclysm. The self-deceit behind this selfishness instead only brings earth-bound cataclysm for this lost soul.
Aurora Theatre is introducing Bay Area audiences to ascending playwright Samuel D. Hunter with its sterling production of A Bright New Boise. First seen in New York in 2010, Boise presents a writer with a keen ear for dialogue that has meaning beneath everyday banality, and a good deal of comedy, and a talent for exploring his characters and their demons from multiple perspectives.
The setting is the mirthless employee break room (designed in realistic detail by Richard Olmstead) at a big-box crafts store. Will has sought unlikely refuge there from a crisis in faith and a chance at redemption by connecting with a son he never knew. A scandal at his small-town evangelical church has led him on his mission to Boise, where he sets out to land a minimum-wage job at the same store where his teenage son works. Will's hope of quick reconciliation is dashed by Alex's anger and suspicion of this collaborator in his adoption saga.
While trying to work under the radar at his new job, Will still manages to tell all his co-workers of his special brand of Christianity that elicits various nervous responses. He winces whenever the store manager takes the Lord's name in vain, which is often, and he self-righteously rejects the overtures of a timid co-worker to attend her warm and welcoming Lutheran church. Alex's nihilistic stepbrother also works at the store, and he aggressively protects the sullen Alex from the anguish Will is provoking.
Despite the grimness of the synopsis, Boise packs in a lot of laughs, especially in the first act, as this workplace's specific rituals are comically introduced. Gwen Loeb helps stimulate many of these laughs with her spot-on portrayal of the Hobby Lobby's boisterous manager of conflicting corporate loyalties. There's poor Anna, a shy clerk with a history of failed employment who is precisely brought to life by Megan Trout. Alex, the suddenly wanted son, is played with prickly pain by Daniel Petzoid, and Patrick Russell, as stepbrother Leroy, revels in the character's self-appointed role of social provocateur.
These characters are largely revealed through their interactions with the religiously confused Will, and Robert Parsons expertly peels away at the role's deceptive innocuousness to create a dangerously damaged character. All this has been pulled together with grace and agility by director Tom Ross, and provides a fine introduction to a playwright's compelling new voice.
A Bright New Boise will run at Aurora Theatre through Dec. 8. Tickets are $32-$50. Call (510) 843-4822.