Bay Area Theater Review: A BRIGHT NEW BOISE (Aurora Theatre)

Post image for Bay Area Theater Review: A BRIGHT NEW BOISE (Aurora Theatre)

by Patricia Schaefer on November 26, 2013

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Salvation can’t come soon enough when you’re a long-term, low-wage slave worker at the local Hobby Lobby. Samuel D. Hunter’s tragicomic look at life within the cultural wasteland of post-Capitalist middle America in the Obie award-winning A web.boise_-David-AllenBright New Boise goes beyond the stereotypes in an imaginative Bay Area premiere by Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre.

After escaping his rural Idaho hometown following a deadly scandal at his messianic evangelical church, Will (played with unsettling intensity by Robert Parsons) takes a minimum wage job at Hobby Lobby, a big-box arts and craft store managed by Pauline (Gwen Loeb). In the break room, Will’s co-workers Alex (Daniel Petzold) and Leroy (Patrick Russell) aim to shock customers out of complacency with slam poetry and vulgar t-shirts. Will blurts out his hidden connection to Alex and the wheels are set in motion, the tense storyline never allowing the audience to loose interest.

Dark questions multiply. By making a subtle comparison of corporate indoctrination (be a “people person” with a positive attitude and avoid the fiends who are union organizers!) with evangelical cult brainwashing, the landscape of nothingness that characterizes corporate wastelands begins to take on an ominous cast. Richard ecct1121aurora01Olmstead’s set with its silhouettes of parking lot light poles towering above orange neon letters crying out HOBBY LOBBY in the darkness of a seemingly constant night, creates an undercurrent of menace that suffuses the production with existential gloom (Stephanie Buchner’s lighting is employed to excellent effect.)   The harshly lit, drab, utilitarian  “break room,” populated with movable tables and hard plastic chairs–stand-ins for the interchangeable minimum wage minions–becomes a kind of sterilized purgatory in which the lost souls of capitalism are either purified from venial sins or obliterated. Are we all lost? Can there be any deliverance from this existential meaninglessness?

Director Tom Ross skillfully negotiates the rough seas of the play’s careening themes with a sharp, poised hand, never allowing the actors to overplay their lines, and somehow keeping a light, comic touch in reach. The small cast is uniformly strong, offering wonderfully nuanced acting, with Megan Trout as Anna giving a stand-out ABrightNewBoiseAuroraTheatreperformance as a tightly wound young woman, brimming with insecurities, who manages to step past individual neuroses to reach out for love. Patrick Russell as Leroy burns with sympathetic anger and defiance born out of deep, protective feeling for his troubled brother, and Daniel Petzold is utterly convincing playing the young, lost boy who is riddled with panic attacks. When Mr. Parsons reveals Will’s true nature at the end, and hurls invectives against humanity in the dark parking lot, you genuinely feel for him no matter what a madman he may seem to be. The script offers numerous pitfalls where these actors could go too far and become caricatures, but luckily this does not happen, and the piece keep humming along, on just the right side of realism.

Will's (Robert Parsons) fall from grace is the biggest letdown.Boise is a bit on the long side for a drama, and has a fair number of threads to follow, but in this production, one never feels the length. In fact, I almost wished for a third act, as there seemed to be unrealized potential in Leroy’s potentially explosive force of feeling, played against the apocalyptic fervor of Will. The end seemed a bit of a letdown, as there really is no closure, and no answer provided to the play’s foiled quest for meaning. But perhaps that is the most damning conclusion of all.

photos by David Allen

A Bright New Boise
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison St., Berkeley
scheduled to end on December 8, 2013
for tickets, call 510-843-4822 or visit

Comments on this entry are closed.