It’s one of the cliches of our time to say that certain works of art are transcendent. But no other word comes close to describing the production of “A Bright New Boise” that opened tonight at Oregon Contemporary Theatre in Eugene.
First the basics. Samuel D. Hunter’s 2010 play is a well told story wrapped around five captivating characters who haunt the employee break room at a Hobby Lobby store in Boise. It’s there that Will — played with perfect affection by Russell Dyball, who leads a splendid cast — has just, as the lights come up, arrived to apply for a job.
Hunter’s deft storytelling and quick wit pull us easily into a slightly dysfunctional but overall loving workplace “family,” with Pauline (Ruth Madsagar), the foul-mouthed and harried boss at its head, and with employees Alex, Anna and Leroy as its quarreling but loyal children.
From the moment Will is hired, despite a hole in his resume, for the minimum-wage, 38-hour-a-week “part time” job, it’s clear he is in Boise, and at this particular store, on a personal mission, a quest that starts with an effort to reconnect with a long-lost son and ends in a moment of stunning — yes — transcendence in the store parking lot.
A deeply religious man with an intense but flawed faith, Will grapples along the way with pedestrian manifestations of love and sin and repentance that seem, at every turn, more humble and less important than final salvation he seeks — and it’s ultimately his tragedy that he can’t find his real salvation in those humble, craft-store details.
Director Tara Wibrew lets the playwright (who won, by the way, a MacArthur “genius” grant last year) and excellent cast tell the story easily and quickly, without gimmicks. Zach Twardowski is energetic as the long-lost son, Alex; Kari Welch is sweet as Anna, whose real-life attraction to Will can’t measure up to his unfortunate ideals; and Steven Coatsworth is wonderful in the role of Leroy, the would-be contemporary artist who alone understands and takes care of Alex.
All this is played out on a simple, beautiful set by Amy Dunn.
The play will stick with you, all the way from the fast-moving performance to the script’s sharp reflections on the dull brain torture that is corporate retail America.
“A Bright New Boise” runs through Jan. 31. Do go see it.