AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Samuel D. Hunter
Presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Directed by Tom Ross
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison St., Berkeley, CA / (510) 843-4822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Life is generally bleak for the characters in "A Bright New Boise," being given its Bay Area premiere by Aurora Theatre Company.

At the center of this two-act play by Samuel D. Hunter is Will (Robert Parsons), who has just been hired to work at Hobby Lobby, a big-box craft store in Boise, Idaho. The 43-year-old Will doesn't seem fazed by earning only $7.25 an hour and working only 38 hours, not enough for benefits.

Quiet and unassuming at first, Will is vague about his background, but it's eventually revealed that he belonged to a northern Idaho evangelical church recently tainted by scandal. Still, Will fervently believes that the Rapture is at hand and that he and other believers will ascend to Heaven while everyone else is left to suffer dire calamities.

Will has another reason to show up at Hobby Lobby. He wants to connect with his teenage son, Alex (Daniel Petzold), who works there and who was given up for adoption early in infancy.

Alex fancies himself as something of a performance artist, but he's actually an emotional mess, a youth subject to panic attacks and threats of suicide. He doesn't take kindly to the thought of Will as his father.

Alex's adoptive brother, the older Leroy (Patrick Russell), also works at Hobby Lobby. He's an openly defiant young man, sporting T-shirts with crude or obscene messages. He's also protective of Alex and suspicious of Will.

Another misfit at Hobby Lobby is Anna (Megan Trout), a painfully withdrawn high school dropout. She hides in the store at closing time and reads in the break room because she's not allowed to read at home.

All of them are supervised by Pauline (Gwen Loeb), the foul-mouthed but apparently competent store manager.

Richard Olmsted's set, complemented by Stephanie Buchner's lighting, reflects the bleakness of the characters' lives, while Matt Stines' sound establishes ambience. Costumes are by Maggie Whitaker.

Although this production is well done under the direction of Tom Ross, the play leaves many questions unanswered. There's not much in the way of back stories for these characters, especially Anna.

Nevertheless, the production holds one's attention, and the acting is top notch. Parsons is especially impressive as Will, subtly revealing the character's intense inner conflicts as well as his hope for salvation.

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