Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
A Bright New Boise
Also see Bill's review of Vietgone
It's a difficult and intense journey, and Orange County's Chance Theater has done a creditable job of taking its audience along on it.
Will (Casey Long) responds to an advertisement for a cashier job at a Hobby Lobby store in Boise. Pauline (Karen Jean Olds), the tough-talking store manager, hires him despite some holes in his work history and a certain amount of vagueness about what brings Will from the Coeur d'Alene area of the state. Will does have an ulterior motive for seeking the Hobby Lobby job: his high school age son, Alex (Andrew Guerrero), works there. Alex knows that he was put up for adoption, but he doesn't know anything about his birth parents.
Will also encounters Anna (Alex Bueno), who, like him, hides when the store is closing and then uses the store's work room to avoid an uncomfortable living situation. And, as it turns out, Alex's foster brother, Leroy (David Christian Vera) works at the store as well.
Faith, or lack of same, is what binds these characters together. Will is escaping a scandal in the rural, non-denominational church that he helped to start. Alex is unsure about whom or what he can rely on, and his uncertainty prompts panic attacks. Anna was raised Lutheran, has drifted away, but drifts back sporadically. Leroy rebels against everything that religion stands for, but he also is the one who can talk Alex down from his panic attacks. Pauline sees no problem in her foul mouth and tough attitude, because she recognizes that Hobby Lobby's religion is making money and she can help them do so.
Working in a large space containing the Hobby Lobby break room and a parking area, and with audience stationed on both sides of the stage, director Trevor Biship is able to create spaces for his characters both for playing intimate, emotionally wrenching scenes, as well as for ones of nearly uncontrolled anguish. It's easy for an audience to lose interest in such a large space, though, and an intermission that was announced in the program had been canceled by the performance I saw. Good call, I thought: a run time of 100 or so minutes total is manageable, and the lack of intermission (though, it is clear where the intermission would have occurred) helps to keep the audience's attention within the confines of the play.
Chance's strength often lies in the quality of its performances, and that quality is in evidence here. Mr. Long's earnest demeanor, combined with his weight-of-the-world posture and walk, catch Will's contradictions. While some of Mr. Hunter's play may seem ironic to the point of satire (Hobby Lobby is now famous for its corporate religious principles, and the break room features television monitors playing round-the-clock talking heads touting new ways to increase sales), Mr. Long portrays Will's faith without any hint of irony. Ms. Bueno's character doesn't really get Will, but she knows that he's a kindred spirit. Mr. Guerrero and Mr. Vera play unstable emotions with physical and emotional commitment, and Ms. Olds' no-nonsense performance indicates that she knows how to herd cats, no matter how weird doing so might turn out to be.
As is common in Mr. Hunter's work, the journey is what's most important: the characters may not experience a happy ending, but the audience walks out well satisfied all the same.
Performances continue through October 25, 2015, on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are available by calling 714-777-3033 or by visiting chancetheater.com. The theatre is located at 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills, CA 92807.
Chance Theater presents A Bright New Boise, by Samuel D. Hunter. Directed by Trevor Biship with scenic design by Bruce Goodrich, lighting design by Tim Swiss, sound and video design by Jeff Polunas, costume design by Christopher Scott Murillo, and props design by Elizabeth Gibson.
The cast consists of Casey Long (Will), Andrew Guerrero (Alex), Alex Bueno (Anna), David Christian Vera (Leroy), Karen Jean Olds (Pauline), Robert Foran (Voice 1), and Will Jorge (Voice 2).