Samuel D. Hunter is one of the most daring new writers in the American canon, presenting bold explorations of religion and faith in our times. Chick and a Dude Productions’ stellar prodution of “The Whale” earlier this year introduced Austin to his work, and now Hyde Park has chosen to grace the capital city with another of his theatrical wonders, “Bright New Boise”. Taking place almost entirely in the break room of a Hobby Lobby, “Bright New Boise” follows Will, a pious, hardworking man with a dark past behind him, who gets a job at the Hobby Lobby to rekindle his relationship with his estranged son, who he gave up for adoption. Along the way, we’re taken on an intense journey, which leads in so many interesting directions and twists and turns enough to keep audiences constantly on their toes.
Nate Jackson plumbs the very depths of his emotion as teenager Alex. Though at first it his performance may seem too obvious, with his twitchy artiness, as the play progresses, he begins to plunge further into the emotion quagmire, spreading his emotional vines into our hearts and holding firm. There is a particular scene near the end of the play that acts a true testament to his acting, as, without a word, we see a slow descent into sorrow from the young actor, who takes the audience on a journey of emotion with simply his expression.
Benjamin Summers has been an actor on the rise in the Austin theatre scene for some time, creating memorable characters across the city’s stages, but with “Bright New Boise”, he has created what could be his best performance. Combining sensitivity with intensity, Summers takes on the difficult role of Will, a pious man with a dark past chasing him, and crafted it into something truly intriguing. It’s a daring and brave performance from an actor who’s not afraid to let go and show his ugly side.
The play offers plenty of other impressive roles, including a true typhoon of a turn from Rebecca Robinson, who gives a truly unique performance as the manager, Pauline; a subdued and well-crafted from Katie Kohler as Anna; and Chase Brewer as renegade artist, Leroy, whose raw intensity really helps to provide an unsettling element to the play.
The most intense play to hit Austin stages this year, Hyde Park Theatre’s “Bright New Boise” has the nerve to look into taboos subjects like faith and religion without flinching, all bolstered by a pair of powerful and brave performances from the two leads, and some truly roaring strides from the supporting cast. Add in the fine light and production work from the crew, and you have one of the most shocking theatrical journeys of the year, and another fine feather in Hyde Park’s cap.