It’s opening weekend at the Silver Spring Stage and it’s clear many in attendance have little idea what to expect from playwright Sam Hunter’s 2011 award winning play, A Bright New Boise. The audience are positioned on two sides of the square stage separated by a wide walkway that will provide a second location away from the break room of the arts and crafts store, Hobby Lobby, where most of the play takes place. With the set in darkness, Will (Brendan Murray), takes his place on the outside of the pillar at the corner of the stage between the audience and declares “Now” and the sense that we don’t know what we are ready for is heightened.
The lights come up on the break room and Scenic Designer, Dean Leong, has produced a convincing location. The two walls feature a sink, microwave, lockers and inboxes that form a sterile setting broken up only by a lonely motivational poster informing the staff to ‘Hang in there’. Tables and chairs adorn the rest of the stage and a TV and VCR are positioned on the inside of the corner pillar in such a way that no-one in the audience can see the screen. Faith is a central theme of Hunter’s play and as the story unfolds the TV’s placement is wonderfully unsettling for the audience as it almost takes on a God like role as we start to question if the staff are watching it or if it is watching them.
Murray is excellent as Will as he draws us in to the genuine warmth of his character while his checkered backstory and extreme religious views about the rapture are slowly unveiled. In the opening scenes, as he starts his first day in his new job, Murray finds the balance of awkwardness, evasiveness and likability in all of his delivery and mannerisms. It’s a really subtle and believable performance that allows us not to define this man simply by what he believes. The manager of the store, Pauline, played by Andrea Spitz, is a brash and relatively uncomplicated woman. Spitz is much of the comedy as the darkness descends as the show progresses and she understands her ‘why me?’ role in proceedings but some of her expressions and reactions play a little too big for this close-knit audience.
Will is introduced to teenage co-worker, Alex (Ben Miller), and it is quickly revealed that Alex is Will’s biological son who was adopted as a baby. Miller portrays the apathy and then angst of his character persuasively and the dynamic between the two is engaging to watch. Leroy (Shaquille Stewart), Alex’s older brother from his adopted family, provides an excellent contrast for Will with Stewart’s comfortable demeanor in the break room making it easy to believe he has worked there for years. Leroy wears self designed obscene shirts and delivers language to match that cause a few mutterings from the crowd. “I’m deliberately making you uncomfortable” he tells Will, but it’s far more a message from the playwright to his audience.
The play is truly at its’ best when Murray is sharing the stage with Maura Suilebhan who is a joy to watch as the introverted and sheepish Anna. All of her quirks and facial expressions would be so easy to be overplayed but she never falls into that trap and all of her exclamations and self admonishments are incredibly natural. There is great chemistry between Murray and Suilebhan and their awkward flirting is just really good theatre.
Director, Matt Ripa, moves us through the timeline of the play, largely with lighting changes in the break room effectively signifying the passing of time. He isn’t afraid of silence and that adds to the sense of unease at all the right moments. The movement of the actors is consistent and logical in the vast majority of the exchanges. One slight disappointment is a pivotal scene where Will reads his blog aloud to Anna. We see all that Will is experiencing as he reads his work but we feel a little cheated of Anna’s reaction as she sits with her back to the audience. Later, a moment where Alex buries his head into the wall by the lockers also lacks a certain authenticity. When the scenes transition to the walkway off stage we really feel like we are intruding on these personal moments and Ripa moves the action between the two locations very capably. Murray excels in these off stage scenes and his proximity to the audience only adds to the truth he brings to his character. Unfortunately the ease in which Miller portrayed the emotions of Alex earlier are not matched now that he needs to show much more vulnerability and pain in a more restrained way. In the same location a scene between Will and Leroy almost slips into soap opera territory with Stewart’s delivery.
The show is a technical success with sound and lighting both at a high standard throughout. Set and costumes are not demanding but are done well with minimum fuss. Ripa gets good performances from all of his cast and Murray and Suilebhan absolutely make this a show worth making the effort to see.
#tothepoint Rating 65.5/100
You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.
Ticket Price: $25
Value Rating: +$6