Review: A BRIGHT NEW BOISE at Iowa Stage

A play from the writer of "The Whale" makes it's Des Moines debut through May 21.

By: May. 14, 2023
Review: A BRIGHT NEW BOISE at Iowa Stage

Every once and a while, when a new season is announced, I find a show in the lineup that I can help but anticipate seeing. For me, that happened when Iowa Stage announced they would be doing "A Bright New Boise" as part of their 2023 season. It wasn't a show I was familiar with, but it was a plot I was going to be able to relate to. That was due to the show taking place at a Hobby Lobby. I have not worked for Hobby Lobby, but I did work retail for a few years, so going in, I was excited to see another look at the retail working experience. What I got was so much more.

"A Bright New Boise" is a play by Samuel D Hunter. The playwright may sound familiar to you as his play "The Whale" was recently adapted for the big screen. The show tells the story of four workers at a local Hobby Lobby. It examines what happens when a new employee is hired named Will, who has a few secrets. One was that he wanted this job to meet and get to know his son Alex, played by Joseph Furnald, who was given up for adoption. The way it affects each of them and those working at the Hobby Lobby will have audience members thinking about the show's events long after they leave.

One of the things I've found myself appreciating about this current season for Iowa Stage is seeing people stepping into roles we haven't seen them take on before. Like the previous production of "Trouble in Mind, " actors are stepping into the director's reigns. The directing team for "A Bright New Boise" is led by director Alex Wendel, who Des Moines audiences have seen in both "Sweat" and "King Lear," and Brittny Rebhuhn as Assistant Director, who was seen in "A Christmas Carol" and "King Lear." Before the show started, they were already pulling the audience into the story by having the actors treat the set as a break room.

Their vision of bringing the actors in early and keeping them on during the intermission tied well with Brian Seckfort's set design. His design allowed the audience to follow the cast simultaneously, from break room scenes to parking lot scenes, with just a step. Another way they tied this idea to a working break room was in the use of lighting by Jackson Newhouse. There were five pillars that, at first, I thought were supposed to play like the rafters of a building, but once they lit up, it became clear they were supposed to be the linear lights people are used to seeing in retail stores. The show also features sound design by Brandon Kair and costume design by Jill McMahon.

While a great directing and production team can give us the look and feel of being in a retail store's break room, the actors allow us to see and relate to the characters within the story. This production has an exceptional group of actors. There were moments thorough out the evening that allowed each actor to stand out on their own. Some of those moments came when Jennifer Hughes, as Pauline, goes from her professional demeanor as a store manager to furiously bursting into the breakroom. We see Jake Leiberton go from the assertive artist to the compassionate brother. We also get to see Maggie Schmitt, who the audiences are used to seeing taking on larger-than-life characters such as Sally Bowles and Lina Lamont, give a beautifully grounded performance as Anna.

Two exceptional performances are at the center of the performance, with Michael Harris as Will and Joseph Furnald as Alex. From the show's beginning, when we meet Harris' character Will, you quickly sense that he is holding something in and not fully revealing who he is. Through the first act, we see him as a father looking to reconnect with his long-lost son. It's only in Act 2 we find out the truth of what his character is hiding. It was fascinating to see the back story his character has revealed.

One of my favorite parts of seeing theatre is when you are introduced to a new actor you haven't seen before on stage, or you see an actor step out of the ensemble to take on a leading or supporting role. In a way, we get both with Joseph Furnald's performance as Alex. He debuted in the Des Moines theatre scene this winter during Des Moines Playhouse's production of Rogers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" as part of the ensemble. He is a typical closed-off teenager when we are introduced to his character. What's thrilling to the audience is seeing his depth as an actor as he goes from a comedic performance art moment to a heart-wrenching panic attack on stage, and that's all in Act 1.

Going into this show, I was excited to see a show I didn't know much about. What I left with was a show that, two days later, I'm still thinking about and processing. I went in expecting a show about people working in retail and left with so much more. To learn more about "A Bright New Boise" or purchase tickets, visit the link below.


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From This Author - DC Felton

David Felton has been involved in theatre since his middle school production of The Wizard of Oz. Throughout high school he stayed onstage, and once he got to college he started exploring thebackstage... DC Felton">(read more about this author)


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