FORT WORTH -- A Bright New Boise, receiving its regional premiere at Circle Theatre, is not an easy play.
And that is what makes it so rewarding.
This Samuel D. Hunter drama, which won an Obie Award (the coveted honor for off-Broadway shows) for playwriting in 2011, deals with an ordinary man, Will (Chip Wood), whose extraordinary religious faith has placed him at odds with the world around him. After being part of a Branch Davidian-like cult that is torn asunder by a murder scandal, Will tries to set his life on a new path by taking a job at a Hobby Lobby in Idaho.
But it is a not a love of silk flowers and glue guns that draws him to that particular retail job. He signs on to try to reconnect with his son, Alex (Michael McMillan), who works there. It is not an easy task because the teenaged Alex was given up at birth by his mother and raised by a foster family.
In the break room at his new workplace, where most of the play's action takes place, Will tries to win over a skeptical Alex, while sparring with the boy's foster brother, Leroy (Montgomery Sutton), coping with frazzled boss Pauline (Morgan McClure) and trying to figure out his well-meaning but hopelessly odd and clueless co-worker Anna (Jenny King).
When the story of Will's past is revealed, his situation becomes increasingly tense and desperate. But the reactions of those around him provide all the thunder and lightning in this stormy environment, while Will stands almost passively, like the eye of a hurricane, as the chaos he has created swirls around him.
In the interactions among the characters, the importance of faith and fatherhood dominate the exchanges. From these verbal battles, clearer portraits of each of the characters emerge.
But the beauty of this play is that it will not provide you with any simple answers. Exactly who bears how much blame for what act is painted in shifting shades of gray, not pure blacks and whites. So the audience is invited to make its own conclusions about where the lines are drawn between deep faith and dangerous insanity.
Director Steven Pounders does a brilliant job with the pacing of this gripping drama, which is presented in a single, long act (about 95 minutes). Its overall forward movement, and its peaks and valleys, are perfectly modulated.
A fine actor himself, Pounders also did outstanding work in casting and preparing his players. Everyone seems born to play their roles, and Pounders apparently helped all of them take their acting chops to a new level for this show.
Wood, making his Circle Theatre debut, is ideal as the troubled Will, managing to fully realize a character who has to be simultaneously benign and potentially explosive. McClure is wonderful as the strained-to-the-breaking-point manager. Her frequent unexpected entrances are like flashes of light in the darkness of this play's world.
Sutton could turn it down a notch in a few places, but he is highly compelling overall as a powerful and protective loose cannon who can turn the break room into a war zone.
So there is a lot to love in this well-written and well-staged play. Also, as entertaining as it is between the curtains, you are apt to find that much of the enjoyment of the experience will come after this thought-provoking play is over.