By JEAN LOWERISON | Uptown News
The players outshine the play in Samuel D. Hunter’s “A Bright New Boise,” onstage through Sept. 1 at Chula Vista’s OnStage Playhouse.
Now in its local premiere, “Boise” (which won an Obie in 2011) brings us five indelibly etched characters, all employees of Hobby Lobby in that Idaho city where big-box stores and occasional religious zealotry proliferate.
In the first scene, a hopeful Will (Salomon Maya) comes to interview with foul-mouthed, no-nonsense store manager Pauline (Holly Stephenson). Will is from the northern reaches of the state, where he was a member of a cultish evangelical church that recently disbanded as a result of a controversy.
Boise itself is pretty laid-back religiously (unlike the owners of Hobby Lobby), but Pauline has no truck with extremes of any sort and warns Will to keep any such notions to himself.
Will agrees and gets the job without mentioning his real goal: an attempt to connect with 17-year-old biological son Alex (Devin Wade), given up for adoption shortly after birth and now a Hobby Lobby employee himself.
Angry and suspicious, Alex insists on a blood test, but finding out that Will isn’t lying doesn’t make him any more willing to connect with this absent father, whom he blames for a life he considers inadequate.
Interested in music but given to panic attacks, Alex finds refuge in fellow employee (and adoptive brother) Leroy (Markuz Rodriguez), a free-wheeler who admits that his “art” is in making everyone uncomfortable by forcing them to confront words and images they normally avoid (his T-shirt with the F-word printed in giant letters is an example). Only Leroy can calm Alex’s panic.
Completing the cast is Anna (Carla Navarro), a cute, overly self-conscious young woman who finds her refuge in books. Feeling a sort of kinship with Will (who writes an online blog) gives us a chance to watch their charming pas de deux about personal space as the two of them, both homeless, spend nights in the break room.
The bleakness of this room, with its often-malfunctioning TV that even on good days plays either Hobby Lobby ads or bloody operations underway in an unidentified operating room — may or may not be indicative of the lives these characters lead. But Hunter has given us an interesting group to watch.
Unfortunately, the payoff we’re waiting for at the end doesn’t quite come, and we’re left with five people still in search of an elusive escape hatch from their own personal hell. Or maybe for the rapture.
Director James P. Darvas has found the right cast for this strange little play about faith, family and second chances, and directs them with a sure hand. My personal favorite is Stephenson’s boisterous Pauline, just trying to get the job done (and keep those profits up).
Maya’s Will tugs at the heartstrings with his hope for a new beginning. Rodriguez’s Leroy pushes people away with his “art” while dedicating himself to his brother’s care when necessary.
But special kudos to Wade, a wonder as Alex, who manages to achieve the impossible: talking at warp speed while all those words remain intelligible, and giving us a touching portrait of a damaged soul.
“A Bright New Boise” is an odd little piece, brilliantly executed even if the wind-up is ultimately unsatisfying.
— Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at email@example.com.
“A Bright New Boise” plays through Sept. 1, 2019
at OnStage Playhouse,
291 Third Ave. (near F Street), Chula Vista.
Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.;
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets: 619-422-7787 or onstageplayhouse.org