A Bright New Boise
Hyde Park Theatre's latest takes a gripping look at religious extremism through a glass, darkly
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., Oct. 17, 2014
A Bright New BoiseHyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd
Through Oct. 25
Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.
There's religion ... and then there's religion.
Even if it's just one basic religion – Christian, in this case – there are so many different types, different denominations, different parts of the faith-based spectrum. And there are mild forms of most of these, and, more rarely, frighteningly extreme forms of a few. And it seems that playwright Samuel D. Hunter, recipient of one of this year's MacArthur Foundation "Genius" grants, will be damned if he doesn't explore every last one.
(Hunter is the man who penned The Whale, a similarly religion-spiked and harrowing work of brilliance that we reviewed earlier this year when A Chick & a Dude Productions staged it.)
Now here's A Bright New Boise, Hunter's 2011 Obie-winning drama in which a troubled Idaho man confronts his given-up-for-adoption son, 17 years later, in the breakroom of a Hobby Lobby.
("Troubled," I said. Jesus, I can't even.)
This show is directed by Ken Webster for Hyde Park Theatre, and so it's got: 1) a set design of almost painful verisimilitude, 2) a cast of solid actors, and 3) relevance to the real world in which we all suffer and/or thrive. It's to be hoped that most of us don't suffer as much as some of the characters here, although the extent of what they're dealing with isn't so obvious at first. Thing starts off seeming like a sitcom – albeit one of the best written sitcoms a television could imagine framing – before deepening into something more starkly revealing and more outwardly hellish. I mean, there are legit laughs in this show – because people are funny, and they do funny things, and Samuel Hunter knows people, but ...
You ever see that Nicolas Cage movie, Vampire's Kiss, where you're laughing at all the wack antics and scenery-chewing right up until the end, at which point there's a complete reversal of perspective and now, the louder you laughed, the more you feel like a horrible human being? You kind of get a taste of that here. Because Hunter isn't pulling any punches, and he's not offering any happy endings, and he recognizes (and asserts) that some shit – some things, and even some people – will remain unredeemed.
Benjamin Summers, as the dad who's stalked his way to Boise after the church he was part of was broken apart, does an excellent job of projecting a surface that obscures, 'til near the end, the man's desperation and insanity. Nate Jackson, who's been sizzling every stage he's stepped on lately, perfectly embodies the adolescently distraught son. Rebecca Robinson is always a delight, but here, as the Hobby Lobby manager Pauline, she's on fire, man, she's a fucking ball of phosphorus in a pan of corporate holy water. You've also got Chase Brewer and the Back Pack's Katie Kohler making their HPT debuts, and they're well-chosen by Webster – Kohler, especially, nailing the bigger role of sweetly vulnerable Anna as precisely as one might nail a messiah to a length of wood.
There's a technical bonus, too, even beyond that Mark Pickell set and Don Day's lighting and Robert Fisher's soundscape: Lowell Bartholomee provides video footage of surgical procedures intercut with two geezerly Hobby Lobby honchos rambling on about product quality and sales data and the like. And if you need any of that to have more meaning than you think it might, then you should definitely see this highly recommended production.