Friday, August 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News





By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

Religion—not  intellectual theological debate—but old-time, fundamentalist, burn-in-hell, get-down-on-your-knees evangelical preachifying is a tricky topic for a play. Especially a play written by a fundamentalist Christian from Idaho which won an Obie in New York.

You keep asking yourself is this for real? Does this play mean it? How seriously are we supposed to take these characters? How much does patronizing pity for people who work in big box stores for minimum wage, live in their cars, and have little in their lives to sustain them, color this show? Is blue-collar neurosis inherently more sympathetic for being blue-collar? How interesting are we supposed to find these boring corporate videos?  Do such meager lives make people crazy as well as desperate?

This is the dilemma presented by A Bright New Boise by Sam Hunter, in a fine production by Simpatico Theatre Project, directed by Jill Harrison.

Regardless of your answers to the questions, the play, sustained by some superb acting, is engrossing and considerably creepy. All the characters work for Hobby Lobby, and we see them only in the dreary Break Room where TV monitors flip up and back between droning sales pitches and weird and gruesome medical close-ups (the ingeniously awful set was designed by Ian Paul Guzzone).

The central character, Will (Kevin Bergen in a remarkably nuanced and  persuasive performance) has left his town and his church to reunite with his son Alex (the excellent Aubie Merrylees) whom he hasn’t seen since he was an infant. Alex is troubled by panic attacks and manipulates people by saying “STOP” followed by “Or I’ll kill myself.”

Alex’s older brother Leroy (Robert Carlton who seems painfully self-conscious onstage) is supposed to be an artist but whose rage against the machine merely takes the form of crude t-shirts. Anna (Jessica Dalcanton) is an odd young woman who keeps getting fired and keeps reading the same book and is fascinated by death. Running the store is Pauline (Catherine Palfenier) who knows that what’s important is money and keeping the customers happy.

These people are all desperate for meaning or for redemption or for something: as Will says, “Without God, I’m just a terrible father who works in a Hobby Lobby and lives in his car. There’s got to be more.” Paradoxically, the “more” is the destruction of the world, as he awaits The Rapture. A Bright New Boise is an unusual night in the theater.


Simpatico Theatre Project at Independence Studio on 3, Walnut St. Theatre, 9th & Walnut Sts. Through Oct. 21 Tickets $10-22. Information: 215-423-0254 or

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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