‘A Bright New Boise’ welcomes audiences for Indiana University Northwest fall stage run – Chicago Tribune

2022-10-10 22:34:16 By : Ms. Kyra Yu

IUN sophomore theatre major Tyler Marrie, left, and IUN alumni Brandon Hearne are featured in the cast of “A Bright New Boise” with scenery and lighting by Katherine Arfken Oct. 6-15 in the Mainstage space of the Arts and Sciences Building at Indiana University Northwest in Gary. (Mark Baer)

When Indiana University Associate Professor of Theatre Katherine Arfken was designing the scenic stage landscape for the campus fall production of “A Bright New Boise,” she describes her needs as “modest.”

“A basic table, some folding chairs and a large garbage can with a swinging lid are the main features,” said Arfken, describing what she needed to create for the story’s drab setting.

“This play takes place in the windowless breakroom area of a Hobby Lobby store, so it’s all very basic for the look we’re going for.”

“A Bright New Boise” is a 90-minute no intermission new stage work written by Samuel D. Hunter, commissioned and first produced by Partial Comfort Productions in New York City in September 2010. In October 2011, there was a second production at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, DC.

Billed as a dark comedy, the playwright describes the script “taking place in the bleak, corporate breakroom of a craft store in Idaho.”

It is being performed for six performances at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6, 7, 13 and 14 and 3 p.m. matinees Oct. 8 and 15, all in the large 500-seat Mainstage theater space at Indiana University Northwest in Gary.

The lead character is Will, who is eager for a new chapter after leaving his rural hometown due to a scandal at his Evangelical church. He accepts a job at a Hobby Lobby in Boise, not just for employment, but to attempt to establish a relationship with a co-worker who also happens to be his teenage son named Alex, the brooding young man Will gave up for adoption several years earlier.

Fellow store staff includes Leroy, Alex’s stepbrother, and also unsettled Anna, who spends her free time lost in her favorite fiction books. All are subjected to their foul-mouthed store manager Pauline, who believes the world of overemphasized holiday décor, and what seems like an endless array of aisles of silk flowers and faux foliage, is a heaven-sent employment opportunity.

Mark Baer, associate professor of acting and directing at Indiana University Northwest, is not only directing this new production of “A Bright New Boise,” but with just a one week notice, found himself directed to step into the lead role of Will, while continuing his charge of guiding his cast mates.

“Just a week or so prior to our opening weekend, one of the cast members had to step away from the production, and that meant I needed to step in and quickly learn lines,” Baer said.

“It’s a great stage work exploring the profound, yet universal themes of faith, family and redemption, and it fits nicely into our campus theatrical season of plays, which broadly explore the human experience in imaginative and unexpected ways.”

Baer describes his character role as “a father in his mid-40s who has struggled for years after giving up his only child at the age of 4.”

“We’ve had this play on our reading list for a while now, and the time is definitely right to do it now,” said Baer, now in his 12th year on the faculty at IUN.

“In fact, it seemed urgent to do it now given the job and employment situation being faced by so many post-pandemic. There are so many people currently working in jobs that are not a first choice on their list. And even though the script makes it clear the store described in this story is a Hobby Lobby, these scenes really could be happening in the breakroom of any big box store.”

“A Bright New Boise” is presented by special arrangement with Concord Theatricals, on behalf of Samuel French. In January 2023, playwright Samuel Hunter will see his play have its off-Broadway premiere in January 2023 directed by Oliver Butler at Signature Theatre in New York City.

Baer said the spring 2023 semester production at IUN will be “Everybody” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, which he describes as a modern take on the 15th century morality play “Everyman.” For the stage spin of “Everybody,” Baer said the playwright has “infused a story of profound reckoning with modern theatricality and humor.”

“Both our ‘Boise’ fall work and our spring title explore faith and hope in the context of a complex world, addressing such profound issues with humor and irony,” Baer said.

Where: Mainstage of Arts and Sciences Building, Indiana University Northwest, 3400 Broadway, Gary

Cost: $10 general admission, cash and check only

Information: iun.edu/theatre/tickets-reservations/index.htm

Philip Potempa is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.