Ah, yes — when God finally arrives in all his glory to destroy the wicked and raise up the true believers in a dazzling city of eternal happiness, how beautiful it all will be! Right? Right?
That is the tough question posed in Samuel D. Hunter’s A Bright New Boise, now at Oregon Contemporary Theatre. The play focuses on Will (Russell Dyball), a man who has given his life to a non-denominational church, stalwartly keeping its books and spreading the faith to the neglect of all things worldly. Apparently, if the end is at hand, it doesn’t really matter that you have lost your family, are essentially homeless and holding down a poverty-wage job.
When the church falls apart in scandal and disgrace, Will seeks to put together a life on imperfect Earth while desperately hanging on to his hopes for an end to this world of sorrow. “There are greater things than life,” he nearly pleads. “There have to be.” Because, if there’s nothing but this life, Will has failed in every possible way.
And if all that weren’t trouble enough, he’s wearing a bright blue vest and a nametag, working part-time at a craft store.
In A Bright New Boise, playwright Hunter contrasts the mundane with dreams of the divine, creating a dark comedy that keeps you laughing until at last you’re chilled to the core. The fact that all of Will’s deep revelations are unfolding in the break room of a Hobby Lobby craft store amid the drama of retail couldn’t be more appropriate. With a zealous store manager and a nearly continuous Hobby Lobby TV station illuminating the benefits of pipe cleaners, it’s the perfect modern setting for an existential crisis.
Director Tara Wilbrew turns out a sharp production. With a script that is very funny, all the while relentlessly drawing the audience into disheartening reality, Wilbrew smoothly manages the evolving tone of the play. She tolerates no weak links. Every actor is spot-on. The set and production elements wrap the play solidly, tightening our suspension of disbelief.
Dyball is fascinating as Will. His deep, honest portrayal allows us to sympathize with a character we may not be altogether familiar with. His work opposite Zach Twardowski (the unstable, manipulative Alex) is worth studying for those interested in acting.
Steven Coatsworth and Kari Welch offer clever turns as a pair of Will’s co-workers. As Pauline, the energetic, overburdened store manager, Ruth Mandsagar utilizes shades of Jane Lynch à la Glee.
The play’s conclusion echoes Will’s messianic desires; ultimately, there are no answers. The hope of connection between a father and son, the choice to live in fantasy or reality, the sacred need to connect with others, the drive to create meaning in a chaotic world — it all clashes in a tangle of life, with no end in sight. ν
A Bright New Boise runs through Jan. 31 at Oregon Contemporary Theatre; $15-$30, tickets at 465-1506 or octheatre.org.