The central figure in Samuel L. Hunter’s “A Bright New Boise” at first appears as a stable character among loonies.
Played by a deeply emotionally connected Robert Parsons in Aurora Theatre Company’s excellent local premiere of the intriguing comedy-drama (by the author of the more recent 2013 Drama Desk award winner “The Whale”), Will — a newcomer to the workforce at Hobby Lobby, a big-box crafts store in Boise, Idaho — seems affable and low key.
His seriously flawed co-workers are controlling, rage-aholic store manager Pauline (a hilarious and completely convincing Gwen Loeb); nervous, neurotic high school dropout and bookworm Anna (a fascinating, complex performance by Megan Trout); hostile tough-guy Leroy (the always electrifying Patrick Russell); and, most important, Leroy’s younger brother, Alex (Daniel Petzold, in a beautifully crafted turn as a disturbed kid). Alex, who composes music and writes poetry, is given to panic attacks.
They’re all working at a dead-end job, and Hunter’s depiction of their workplace (dreary, realistic set by Richard Olmsted) is funny and a tiny bit surreal: A closed-circuit monitor in the break room runs a loop of reps from “corporate” discussing the store’s exciting new products, but occasionally the TV malfunctions and broadcasts close-ups of gory medical procedures (video design by Micah J. Stieglitz).
It’s a harbinger of the scary world outside this bland, banal setting.
As Will explains early on, he’s here to find and connect with the reluctant, vulnerable Alex, the long-lost son he gave up for adoption when he was a baby.
But loner Will’s background is clouded. He comes from “up north,” where, as it becomes evident soon enough, he was involved with a cultlike evangelical church of which the pastor was recently jailed for something horrific.
That background is cause for suspicion and ambivalence among his co-workers. When eager Anna invites Will to join her friendly Lutheran church, you know that’s not going to happen. Will has not given up his faith; he is a true fundamentalist, praying for the Rapture.
Hunter’s examination of this group of white, working-class folks who know they’re unlikely to rise much higher in life is profoundly empathetic. Needy and desperate to varying degrees, they’re played with such finesse by the Aurora cast, under Tom Ross’ perfectly modulated direction, that you care about them just because they’re human.
A Bright New Boise
Presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Where: 2081 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Dec 8
Tickets: $32 to $50
Contact: (510) 843-4822 or www.auroratheatre.org