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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

A Bright New Boise at Rogue Machine Theatre really feels like two separate plays.

The first is a quirky character study set in the the break room of a craft supply store. The second is a Rapture story - which like the Rapture itself - either you get . . . or you don't.

Let's tackle the break room antics first. Playwright Samuel D. Hunter creates a wonderfully wacky group of employees at the 'Hobby Lobby,' Boise's craft store. Think The Office with Styrofoam balls and pipe cleaners. We meet Pauline, the store's manager, who's got corporate breathing down her neck. This store's her life and she'll be damned if her employees are going to screw it up. There's Anna who's a little quirky and awkward around people. Sometimes she hides in the textile section after hours so she can just hang out and read a book. There's Alex, the most accurate cashier, who doesn't really look folks in the eye: he's an angsty teenager with aspirations of becoming a performance artist. His older foster brother Leroy is, as he says, the only one who knows a damn thing about art supplies. He's getting an art degree at BSU and this little Hobby Lobby job is his own little confrontational art project. He's taken to wearing profane t-shirts with tag lines like "You will eat your young."

Like any great character piece, the joy is discovering the world and meeting these oddballs. Rogue Machine Theatre has perfectly cast the production and under John Perrin Flynn's direction the dialogue is crisp and the comedy dark without being indulgent.

The catalyst and protagonist is the new employee - Will. He's just moved to Boise from ‘up north' and has a mysterious religious past: something shady happened. He's our way into the Rapture. He not only believes, he wants it to happen like now!

At first, the tension between character comedy and religious whodunnit or ‘whose going to get it?' is fun. Even though you can feel the mechanics of the plot churning as we slowly discover critical details, you go along because it's so beautifully acted.

What keeps you hooked is the religion isn't a punch line. Rather than setting up the believer as the naive fool, playwright Samuel D. Hunter seems to be reaching for something more meaningful, more complicated. As each character is slowly brought to their personal boiling point and the comedy morphs into a series of personal manifestos and confessions, it feels like there's something really profound just about to happen.

And then . . . well endings are tough. It feels like Mr. Hunter ran out of steam and couldn't figure out how to find meaning in the meaningless. In the end, he resorts to a flashback that adds neither resonance nor resolution.

Go see A Bright New Boise for the beautiful acting and forgive it its ending.

A Bright New Boise plays at the Rogue Machine Theatre through December 9.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.


Banner image: (L-R) Matthew Elkins, Betsy Zajko and Trevor Peterson in A Bright New Boise

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