Plot of 'A Bright New Boise' runs counter to play's title

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NOVEMBER 17, 2013

In an age of high consumerism, things consume America. New technologies, supplies, objects and raw materials are constantly being produced and sold under the guise that each new item is a necessity, as if each update or product made will drastically improve the quality of one’s life. The strikingly relevant play “A Bright New Boise,” written by Samuel D. Hunter and directed by Tom Ross, premiered Nov. 8 at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley and runs until Dec. 8 to reveal the dark side of consumerism just before the most materialistic time of year.

The play does so in subtle ways a viewer may not initially realize. The story is set in Boise, Idaho, and follows the human dynamics and conflict among troubled employees at the Hobby Lobby — a chain of arts and crafts department store that effectively functions as representative of all “big-box” stores in corporate America.

Through concise, witty dialogue, employees convey frustration at what their lives and country have become. The store’s manager, a loud, rosy woman, expresses that “Corporate” does not understand how to deal with human issues because it is so fixated upon the economic and structural picture. She loathes being forced to execute tasks designed by corporate authority to uphold order, such as the store’s mechanical formula for “conflict resolution,” as such methods do not actually solve problems but instead merely perpetuate an illusion of order within chaos.

The critical undertone prevalent throughout the entirety of this self-professed dark comedy becomes especially conspicuous through the use of background noise. The protagonist’s son writes surrealist poetry and performs his art out loud, speaking jagged words over sounds of outdated, beeping technology. This monologue by actor Daniel Petzold is jarring and greatly perplexes the character’s father, conveying the son’s intrinsic anxieties while simultaneously critiquing the overwhelmingly materialistic nature of human society.

Art is portrayed as something that, like the son who suffers panic attacks, has little room to breathe amid corporate oppression. The son’s tone throughout is anxious, his words urgent, and the viewer shares his agitation as one struggles to make meaning out of the jumble of spoken words executed in a manner akin to Gertrude Stein’s.

“A Bright New Boise” converts bustling consumerism into a white noise upon which art is created and new forms of expression conveyed. The fact that the play critiques America through a hobby store — a place where people buy new things to combine to make more complex new things — is very clever. Employees in the break room are frequently distracted by and fixated upon the television, entranced by the programming as it fluctuates between the materialistic and the grotesque. Television functions as an odd respite from the hardships of life yet seems to perpetuate them, as commercials promote the purchase and consumption of a variety of new products. Perhaps the most startling nod to the controlling power of consumerism in the play is when Petzold’s character whips an arm up to make a Nazi gesture and exclaims, “Capitalism!”

The story is not all satire and despair, however — it is also quite funny. Incessantly provocative jokes and quirky, blunt characters who foil each other keep the audience laughing out loud. The plot is entertaining and intriguing, as viewers are kept in suspense by the father’s mysterious past in an Evangelical cult and the truth about a young man’s murder is slowly unfurled.

The story calls a lot of attention to the plight of the American working class, an issue discussed constantly in left-leaning Berkeley and across the country. The protagonist and the other characters feel that their situations are inescapable and their fight to succeed in life futile. People write, make art and try to have faith but still end up depressed, oppressed and lost. Is this what American capitalism has come to? “A Bright New Boise” begs us to ask this question.

Contact Kate Irwin at [email protected].

Corrections: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Hobby Lobby was a fictional business. In fact, Hobby Lobby is a real chain of arts and crafts stores.

Contact Kate Irwin at 


NOVEMBER 20, 2013

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