Baffled in Boise

By STEVE VINEBERG  |  October 9, 2012


Samuel D. Hunter's A Bright New Boise, receiving its Boston premiere in a production by the Zeitgeist Stage Company, has no dramatic structure. It's a series of unconvincing dramatic ideas and implausible confrontations strung together by a series of themes — hope of salvation and loss of faith, adolescent anomie, disconnection between parent and child — that are scattered through the text as if their presence were proof of profundity.

The main character, Will (Victor Shopov), moves to Boise to find the teenage son, Alex (Zach Winston), he gave up for adoption after his girlfriend abandoned them both. He's also a refugee from a scandal that broke up his church. He gets a job at a chain store called Hobby Lobby where both Alex and his foster brother, Leroy (David Lutheran), a self-proclaimed artist who prints deliberately offensive T-shirts, work. The other two characters are their abrasive boss (Janelle Mills) and an insecure young woman (Dakota Shepard) who hides out in the store before closing so that she can use the break room to read because her family makes fun of her. She and Will become sort-of friends after hours; he also hides so that he can use the break room to work on his online novel about the Rapture.

The director, David J. Miller, doesn't do much to sculpt the scenes, though I'm not sure there's any way to make the play feel like it has a shape. And he doesn't give the actors much help. They mostly stand around and emote, especially Shopov, who registers as inauthentic long before his big scenery-chewing speech near the end. (A director can't let an actor shout at the top of his voice in a space as intimate as the Plaza Black Box in the Boston Center for the Arts. You start looking around for the exit.) The rest of the actors are earnest, but the only one who comes across as a real person is Shepard, even though the scene where her character suddenly turns on Will and accuses him, without provocation, of trying to convert her doesn't make sense. The play (which won Hunter a playwriting OBIE for the 2010 New York production) is full of odd touches that may be intended as absurdist but come across as cartoonish, like the self-written song Alex performs (it's really a chant) for his father, and a medical reality show on the break-room TV that contains graphic, gruesome images. Everything about A Bright New Boise, including the title, is baffling.

A BRIGHT NEW BOISE :: Through October 20 :: BCA Black Box Theatre, 539 Tremont St, Boston :: $20-$30 :: 617.759.8836 or 

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