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A Bright New Boise at LiveWire Chicago Theatre | Theater review

Samuel D. Hunter’s 2010 play has weightier interests than its workplace-comedy beginnings let on.

Photograph: Austin D. Oie
Jackson Challinor and Tom Hickey in A Bright New Boise at LiveWire Chicago Theatre

“What people believe doesn’t matter,” a frustrated manager tells her fighting employees in the break room of a Boise Hobby Lobby. But for Will (Tom Hickey), the store’s newest hire, beliefs are the only things worth living for. Working at the craft store to get closer to the son he put into foster care, Will tries to build a relationship with Alex (Jackson Challinor), but religion becomes a roadblock when Will’s past with a cult-like church is revealed.

Samuel D. Hunter’s 2010 play begins as a quirky workplace comedy then takes a sharp turn in the second half, as the playwright explores how personal beliefs are both a boon and a detriment. While Will’s religion gives him hope for the future, his obsession with the afterlife prevents him from bonding with others. In a strong central performance, Hickey depicts a man tortured by the thing that is also his greatest happiness; he becomes more intense and passionate as Will turns to faith for comfort.

Alex is a depressed, awkward teenager, yet Challinor’s physical stiffness and bland vocal quality prevent the character from seeming fully realized. As aggressive, foul-mouthed store manager Pauline, Allison Cain layers in a genuine sense of pride that shows the character’s dedication to her work. Hunter makes a strong case for appreciating the here and now over the hereafter.

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