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An Idaho playwright's work gets a fresh production in Coeur d'Alene

click to enlarge FROM LEFT: Maxim Chumov, Robby French and Doug Dawson as Hobby Lobby employees in A Bright New Boise. - DAN BAUMER PHOTO
  • Dan Baumer photo
  • FROM LEFT: Maxim Chumov, Robby French and Doug Dawson as Hobby Lobby employees in A Bright New Boise.

Once you get past the quickly exhausted gag of employees cursing profusely in a Hobby Lobby breakroom, it becomes harder and harder to see any enduring appeal behind A Bright New Boise.

As a drama, it's too farcical. As a farce, it's too dramatic. Its roles — high-strung religious zealot, confrontational artist, awkward bookworm, brooding estranged son — seem to have been hand-picked from a universal storeroom of stock types, yet they're saddled with a degree of torment and anguish not seen since the silent movie era. Its script is a construct of tired themes and implausibly artificial exchanges; it hits dramatic waypoints with formulaic precision. Worse, A Bright New Boise regards its own characters with a condescending pity that it wants you to believe is true compassion.

This production, directed by Heather McHenry-Kroetch (God of Carnage), tends to exacerbate rather than moderate the shortcomings of Samuel D. Hunter's play. Act one brings down-and-out Will (Doug Dawson; Rock of Ages), easily unsettled and clearly suppressing some kind of pivotal Mysterious Secret, into a Boise-based Hobby Lobby, where he's interviewed by salty manager Pauline (Emily Jones; God of Carnage). Will takes an immediate interest in teenage employee Alex (Maxim Chumov; Seeds of Change). The two instantly engage in the kind of affected small talk that only seems to happen in the minds of dramatists looking for an easy way to imbue their characters with depth. Despite his apparent minimum-wage provincialism, you see, Alex admires the work of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

Then Will abruptly confides to Alex that he's in fact his long-lost biological father, come to reconnect. To restate that: Instead of just approaching Alex elsewhere, Will has gone through the unnecessary, unexplained effort of first becoming his son's coworker, even though it results in situations that threaten to expose the mysterious secret that Will is apparently so keen to escape. Further interactions with fellow employees Leroy (Robby French; Rent) and Anna (Hannah Paton; Lend Me a Tenor) — broad and jokey in the first act of this production, overly shouty and sinister in the second — eventually propel him to the big, tortured, anticlimactic reveal.

Throughout all this, A Bright New Boise never gets to grips with its material; it simply names things. The Rapture, Home Depot, Kandinsky, Rathdrum — lazy, middlebrow proxies for religion, consumerism, art, rural America. Neither these nor the characters' constant preoccupation with the flaky corporate TV channel succeed in making the play any more profound, just as painting flames and racing stripes on your car won't make it any faster.

A highlight, however, is Jeremy Whittington's set, an attractive trompe-l'oeil that smashes through the store's breakroom to reveal a cold, angular strip of national chain stores receding into the surrounding mountains. ♦

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