A Bright New “A Bright New Boise”: InHouse Theatre Production Infuses Light Where There is Darkness

From left to right, the cast and crew of “A Bright New Boise”
presented by InHouse Theatre Company:
Dylan Ramsey (actor), Bryce McBratnie (producer), Micah Rausch (lighting designer) – back row

Rob Welsh (director), Jonathan Chase (actor), Mar Sudac (actor), Renee Threatte (actress) & Caroline Morahan (actress) – all front row

For Tickets & Information please visit: www.InHouseTheatre.com
Production runs until June 30th in Los Angeles.

Appeal of the Play and the InHouse Approach

Desperation.Bleakness. Isolation. Despair. Faithlessness. Disrespect. Meaninglessness. Hopelessness. Hysteria. If I left something out, Samuel D. Hunter certainly did not in his play A Bright New Boise.  Given these givens, it is hard to imagine how lively, exciting, and stimulating a performance of this play InHouse Theatre presented on June 9, 2018 in Los Angeles.  Despite the human misery depicted in explicit detail, the methodology of presentation as engineered by the actors and production team was such as to demand the attention of the audience and reward the concentration therein required.  Set in small town Idaho mainly in the break room of the Hobby Lobby chain store, the play details the machinations of five characters seeking salvation in ways which are largely disturbing and counterproductive and reveals the tragedies of the lives they have made for themselves and continue to create.

The uniqueness and draw of this powerful theatrical exposition is the brilliance of its conception as a “site-specfic” drama, that is not on a theatrical stage of any kind but at an actual location (in this case a mimic of a Hobby Lobby break room and parking lot).  The audience does indeed sit in that break room at arm’s length from the actors and then walks outside to the parking lot to follow the action, providing an engrossing, totally immersive experience for the theatre goer.  In the past, InHouse has produced plays in a real lobby, a mansion, a casting office, a house, etc., all with the audience physically embedded with the actors.  This element of physical intimacy with the actors and the action of the play both separates and elevates InHouse Productions from essentially every other theatrical group.

Action of the Play

As A Bright New Boise opens, we meet Will, first in the parking lot engaged in a mysterious contemplation and then in that meticulously recreated Hobby Lobby break room.  Will is a new hire to the company, a company which espouses Christian values yet offers him a 38 hour work week without benefits.  This sets the tone for the many anomalies and ironies which follow.  Pauline, the store manager, delineates the sham world he is about to enter with appropriate inappropriateness of phrasing, which, as they used to say, I cannot reveal in a family magazine. A seemingly unavoidable TV monitor in the background of the break room continuously loops an earnest and unending discussion by two Hobby Lobby minions of the importance, value, and versatility of the pith balls the company sells, this mind numbing video being frequently interrupted by graphic presentations of gory and nauseating operations on humans which the corporate office cannot seem to control despite their efforts to control every other aspect of the Hobby Lobby operation, from air conditioning settings to employee behavior.  It is apparent early on that if a Hobby Lobby employee is not already deranged, he or she soon will be under these ambient circumstances.

Left to Right: Jonathan Chase and Mar Sudac.

Will is already  overwhelmed by a loss of religious faith he has recently suffered, so he is ill prepared to cope with the inanity of the work conditions he will soon face and the insanity of the co-workers he will soon encounter.  Later in the break room Will encounters Alex, a young employee buried in his headphones who disdainfully ignores him and his attempts at conversation.  Will then blurts out to Alex that he is his father.  The suddenness of this announcement stuns not only Alex but the audience as well, and leaves one to ponder whether it was possibly a comic and/or desperate attempt at human communication.  In reality, Will, in a last ditch attempt at personal redemption, has sought employment at this store in hopes of meeting up with his long lost son Alex, who works there, and whom he later claims he was forced to give up at birth to adoption and has not seen since.  Alex, as one might suspect after his first appearance on the scene, proves to be manic and mercurial, the product of abandonment, a bad adoption to religious alcoholics, and real and/or imagined molestations.  Alex first says he finds solace in his art, which consists of loud, frenetic rants against the world aimed at changing the world, but then, in typical fashion, says he is no longer interested in making such performances.  Needless to say, his ensuing relationship with Will is rocky and unsettling for both.

Left to Right: Dylan Ramsey and Mar Sudac.

Enter the break room Leroy, another employee, whose purpose in life, as he states, is confrontation and challenging other people’s comfort zones.  He produces and wears shirts bearing expletives and immediately attempts to intimidate Will.  Leroy knows Will is sensitive to swearing because he is aware of Will’s connection to a church now disbanded and publicly scorned because the religious zealotry of its pastor resulted in the death of a young man Will counseled.  Will has never recovered psychologically from that incident. Leroy is also the brother of Alex, having been brought up by the same parents, and is protective of him and wary of Will’s relationship with him.  Leroy will later announce over the store’s PA system that Will was a key member of the disgraced church and now works in the store; needless to say, this move brings the play’s developing chaos to its apogee.

Left to Right: Jonathan Chase and Caroline Morahan.

Deeply ensconced in this ongoing imbroglio is Anna, another employee, who, like Will, sneaks into the break room at night after the store is closed.  Anna has lost numerous other jobs and comes into the break room to read, since her father will not let her read at home or use his computer.  She has been degraded in every aspect of her life and lives vicariously through her reading of novels, in which she strangely, or perhaps not strangely, favors unhappy endings.  She is gradually drawn to Will, who is actually living in his car and comes into the break room at night to hook up his computer and attempt to write his life’s work, although he has writer’s block and no longer believes he can write.  Impressed by what Will has written and actually inspired by his writing because it does not have a happy ending, Anna invites Will to her church on Sunday, but is unprepared for his violent reaction, nor is the audience, because he has kept his emotions under wraps previously, despite various onslaughts perpetrated on him by the other characters. Enter Pauline, who is attempting to manage not only the store but also this tragic human circus; she decides that in order to mitigate these multiple confrontations of her employees she must sacrifice Will to save the others, so she fires him.  Pauline has made what she considers a practical adjustment in her life, having taken the position that feelings don’t matter and one’s major concern must be to deal with the economic realities of life.  She relates that she had come on as a temporary manager when the store faced closure because of the previous manager’s incompetence but that she, Pauline, had single-handedly built the store back up to profitability. If Pauline has an inner psychological life, we are unaware of it; we merely see how she copes with events and personalities in the store, and given the characters we have seen and the situations their personalities generate, Pauline actually does that well and with compassion, but in her own arch and ironic way.  She sees her firing of Will as her only way to restore the previous level of somewhat tolerable insanity to the store environment, because now events have truly gotten out of hand.  Indeed, in their own ways, all the characters do make attempts to ameliorate the sufferings of their lives and, consequently, their co-workers’ lives.  Will tries to show affection to and care for his son, which in turn will help him deal with his own personal demons; Alex gradually but erratically accepts his father’s love; Leroy continually selflessly looks out for Alex, in his own unique way, and perhaps feels he is doing some good by shocking people out of their own protected venues; and Anna shows some daring by inviting Will to her church, in a move which she hopes will benefit both him and her.  So, I do see some hope amidst the despair here, although I am also certain there will be frequent returns to form for all the characters.

Acting and Production of the Play

The cast did a simply glorious job of bringing these convoluted and conflicted characters to life.  Jonathan Chase as Will perfectly captured the essence of his dichotomous character, displaying both his likable humanity on the surface and his seething demonology under the skin.  Mar Sudac as Alex, giving a completely realistic rendering of his character, illuminated the tortured nature and lightning mood changes of this boy whose birth father is suddenly thrust upon him.  Dylan Ramsey as Leroy gives a masterful performance, conveying with equal skill both his character’s in-your-face obnoxiousness and combativeness and also his tenderness and protectiveness to his brother Alex.  Caroline Morahan as Anna is spot on, her intonation and timing impeccably displaying the drives and frustrations of her character.  Renee Threatte as Pauline gives a high octane interpretation of  the beleaguered manager, providing some much needed and well-delivered levity and real worldliness while illustrating her character’s true empathy.

Left to Right: Mar Sudac and Dylan Ramsey.

Director Rob Welsh and Producer Bryce McBratnie have ingeniously conceived this staging of A Bright New Boise and driven their actors to perfection of performance.  My talks with them indicated their dedication to the concept of InHouse and their diligence in that pursuit.  The work of Micah Rausch, Ivan Anguiano, and Mark Sullivan in lighting, video, and sound design for the play was remarkable in both its creativity and effect and should be well-noted.

Left to Right: Jonathan Chase, Caroline Morahan.

Conclusion and Evaluation

The purpose of InHouse Theatre is to truly immerse the audience in the action of the play both physically and psychologically, and, believe me, I felt like I was inside the heads of the characters! I felt their pain and I also felt their gain.  After the play, I spoke at length with all the actors and the members of the production team.  Everyone was gracious and thankful and provided valuable insights which furthered my understanding of the play and the rationale for this very creative staging of it.  Such personal interactions after the play with the members of the production is available to all members of the audience and another great feature of every InHouse presentation.  This was personalized theatre going, and, as such, was very much to my liking, because it provided both an intimate entertainment at all levels and a real education.  I most strongly recommend the show as an adventure in theatre, learning, and, of course, life.

Left to Right: Dylan Ramsey and Jonathan Chase.

For Tickets & Information please visit: www.InHouseTheatre.com 
Production runs until June 30th in Los Angeles.

Images provided, courtesy of InHouse Theatre Company.