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Saturday, October 15, 2011

With A Bright New Boise, Woolly Brings Another Intelligent Play to Our Midst

Woolly Mammoth can be pretty hit and miss in my opinion. But with their youthful crowds and enthusiasm that brings - especially during their generous PWYC nights - solid acting company and beautiful home just off 7th Street, when a play is good, it's a total pleasure. Such is the case with their current offering, A Bright New Boise by Samuel D. Hunter. The play centers on a father, having left a cult-like church in norther Idaho after a tragedy, confronting the son he never met at a Hobby Lobby box store in Boise. Just writing that scenario here feels bizarre. But Hunter does make sense of this in a startlingly good first act, which almost sets up the play as a a comedy. As the father, Michael Russotto proves to be a willing straight man to top performances from Kimberly Gilbert as a spooked out fellow employee, Emily Townley as an epithet-spewing (in a fun way) boss and Joshua Morgan as his surprised son. The problems arise in the second act when Hunter has to take these characters somewhere. He told us after the play that he is still rewriting this act, so I'm curious to see it again in a few weeks. He loses the tone he set in the first act as he struggles to give meaning. Should the father be persecuted for his part in the tragedy? Will the son come around to him. As he wrestles with these questions, the wonderful scenario that he set up in the cafeteria - with a brilliant company video playing in the background - gets dropped a bit. Hunter himself said that he set up a plot where the ending he's searching for does not give the play much action. He wrote the play in just 3 months on a commission from a theater in New York, so he is clearly incredibly talented. His comfort with dialogue reminds me a little of Neil LaBute before his plays spring their surprises. Hunter needs to find his style with the second act as LaBute found his. Woolly should be congratulated for bringing this fine play and playwright to Washington.

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