New York, New York March 5, 2023 --
In Samuel D. Hunter's 2010 play A Bright New Boise industrial lighting, and a color drained set by Wilson Chin depicts a Hobby Lobby break room in Boise, Idaho. Overhead, an invasive, closed circuit TV gruesomely shows close-up surgical procedures on various parts of the body. A sign of sorts?

Stuck in a drab job, the well-meaning but harried manager Pauline (Eva Kiminsky) juggles a group of just slightly "off" employees. Sitting across from her, a nervous applicant, Will (Peter Mark) anxiously agrees to a minimum wage cashier's job. The no-nonsense Pauline introduces the inscrutable Will to the store's procedures and co-workers populating the shifts.

Unexpectedly, Leroy (Angus O'Brien), a brusque staff person, reveals he's a painter enrolled in an MFA program. Although difficult to believe, Leroy makes and sells offensive T-shirts which he actually wears to work. Leroy works alongside his younger brother, an anxious teenager, Alex (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio).

Nearly always wearing headsets, Alex listens to unlikely music including the Brazilian contemporary classical composer Villa Lobos among others. Easily succumbing to panic attacks and questionable claims of trauma, Alex looks to Leroy--who's especially suspicious of Will -- for protection. Intent on keeping to himself, Will sneaks into the break room after hours to write a blog. Unsuspectingly, he encounters another stowaway, the quirky, but congenial female co-worker Anna (Anna Baryhsnikov)--who intently reads her books and imagines a better future.

In one exchange with Anna, Will reveals a dream: He sees a day when darkness prevails; no moon, no sun, no stars, just the blackness before the "rapture." Is this real, or is this a metaphor for the bleakness swelling inside so many people suspended in a universe like Sartre's foursome in No Exit? That underlying shadow tugs at the revival of A Bright New Boise directed by Oliver Butler at the Signature Theater.

Packed with roller coaster twists and turns, all the mysteries fall into line, including Will's explicit decision to move to Boise and work in this specific Hobby Lobby. In combination, all the production elements reek of mid- American malaise.

On the few occasions when the action takes place outside of the break room, the lighting designer cleverly indicates the shift to outdoors by blacking out the set and illuminating a floor length perimeter of either blue or amber lights.

A fine ensemble cast collectively expresses the emptiness experienced by so many people looking for spiritual remedies to fill joyless lives. Suddenly, I felt incredibly privileged to be living in NYC.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Celia Ipiotis


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