In the first scene of Samuel D. Hunter’s Obie Award-winning A Bright New Boise, and then twice near the end of the play, the central character Will repeats the word “now” several times, each instance separated by a pause and spoken while looking toward the sky, or at least out into the empty Idaho landscape. As a fundamentalist Christian who was involved with a cultish church a few years earlier, his “now” is a wish for Christ’s return in the Rapture.
Whether Will wants to keep holding on to these specific beliefs is sometimes unclear throughout the play, but in that simple repetition of “now…now…now…” he taps into something to which almost anyone, regardless of belief system, can relate. We’ve all been in that place where we wished we could magically make everything change, wipe away past mistakes, and move on to a better place. Sometimes we want it so badly that even a one-in-eleventy-billion chance of winning the Powerball sounds like a feasible escape.
For his finely-tuned production of the play at Circle Theatre—the first local group to tackle a work by one of the country’s rising playwriting voices—director Steven Pounders paces the action with that idea in mind. Most of the characters hope for something to make sense of the lives they’ve ended up with, and believe that anything could change at a moment’s notice.
When we first meet Will (Chip Wood), he’s being given the basics by the foul-mouthed and high-strung Pauline (Morgan McClure), the boss at his new job at a Hobby Lobby in Boise. We soon learn why Will wanted this job: his teenage son Alex (Michael McMillan) works there. The mother gave Alex up for adoption as a baby, and since they weren’t married, Will had no say in the matter.
The other characters who work there are angsty artist Leroy (Montgomery Sutton), Alex’s protective older adopted brother; and wallflower Anna (Jenny King), who seeks out places to read alone so she won’t be ribbed by her family who, needless to say, aren’t bibliophiles.
In a brief, 95-minute play, Hunter gives us five characters we want to care about, and any hint of mystery makes them all the more intriguing. Even abrasive Pauline, who at first feels like a throwaway character, gets a moment to let us see into her soul, as she explains how her drive and sharp instincts have gotten her this far. And if all this sounds heavy, there are more than a few big laughs along the way.
McClure, along with King and Sutton, play out their roles craftily, but this play is really about a possible connection between a father and the son he never knew. The young McMillan, playing a character who’d rather be left alone, gives a standout performance, slowly letting his longing for a real parent—any parent—seep through, but he’s already world-wise enough to approach with caution.
Wood taps into the air of mystery that shrouds the character of Will. Is he really the religious wacko that the others suspect? And does that matter when it’s obvious to everyone, whether they say it, that he’s still searching for something, anything? For Will, maybe that something is as big as the end of the world. Sometimes any bridge to the next phase of life will do.