If you’ve ever cried out, “Take me now, God” in the midst of a soul-killing traffic jam on I-95, you were weren’t even half as discontented as Will (Michael Russotto)who makes that same plea a loud and literal prayer in “A Bright New Boise,” at Woolly Mammoth Theater.
Will has just moved to Boise from “Up North,” where he is obviously trying to leave a dark past behind him. He has landed, of all places, as a cashier at the Hobby Lobby (a big box craft store—like Michael’s) where he works for $7.25 an hour.
The majority of the play takes place under the dingy fluorescent gloom of the employee break room, where Will’s co-workers include an eccentric loner, played to perfection by Kimberly Gilbert, and the wonderfully profane manager Pauline, played by Emily Townley with such naturalism that you’d swear the producers kidnapped her from a real Hobby Lobby and dropped her onto the stage just before curtain.
There are two other employees, one of whom Will has specifically come to see—but I don’t like to spoil plot twists—even when they happen early on, so I won’t mention them here.
Suffice to say that Will is not only running from something, he is also desperately running to something, and someone. Will is convinced that The Apocalypse is coming soon, but not soon enough to deliver him from the pain that is just beneath the pleasant exterior. Playwright Samuel D. Hunter doesn’t look down on non-believers nor true believers, but he does makes us curious about why some people should wish for the death and destruction of the planet and everyone on it, unless, perhaps, they really do see it as a “deliverance,” to paraphrase the Bible.
If you think the play is a downer, based on this brief synopsis, you’d be wrong. The laughs are plentiful and hearty and based more on the characters’ clumsy communication than their beliefs. If you’ve ever been to that part of the country, it’s easy for your mind’s eye to complete the already wonderful sets and envision a beautifully desolate place that harbors as many “weirdos” as it does “salt-of the-earth” types, regardless of their religion. The Northwest is a strange and gorgeous place, populated with “chracaters,” as one might euphemistically call them. Hunter’s play captures those “types” with pinpoint accuracy and it’s fun to watch them here.
Michael Russotto is given the difficult task of concealing more than he’s revealing and plays Will with just the right tone. His character’s most deeply held feelings have to come out in tiny drips and drops until, finally, he can only look up to the heavens and plead, with much more agony than any commuter has ever felt, “Now. Now! Now!!! Now!!!!”
“A Bright New Boise” at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D Street NW, Washington, DC Through November 13th. For tickets and info, please visit: http://www.woollymammoth.net/performances/show_bright_new_boise.php