In Samuel D. Hunter's Idaho, when you're here, you're family—and oh by the way, your family's here.
There’s a long lineage of American plays that argue for the essentially claustrophobic nature of family, but Samuel D. Hunter’s Pocatello at least makes a case for the opposite. Sort of. The play, set at a failing Olive Garden–like chain restaurant in a small Idaho town, follows the efforts of the restaurant’s manager, Eddie (Michael McKeogh), to keep both his work family and his real family together. His quiet yearning for human connection is heartbreaking, though the ways in which he’s rebuffed are often hilarious. It’s that kind of show.
Eddie’s waitstaff consists of the cheery, sweary Isabelle (Allie Long), unhappily married Troy (Bob Kruse) and the sorta-kinda-not-really sober bro Max (Morgan Maher). In an effort to save the restaurant, Eddie institutes “Famiglia Week.” This means that Troy’s alcoholic wife Tammy (Mechelle Moe), his senile father Cole (Sandy Elias) and the couple’s depressed teenage daughter (Becca Savoy) are around to kick up trouble, as is Eddie’s high-strung mother Doris (Lynda Shadrake) and his brother Nick (Sam Guinan-Nyhart), who’s visiting from St. Paul with his wife Kelly (Nina O’Keefe). At times it feels like these people are all eternally trapped together in Joe Schermoly’s picture-perfect set. Like Sartre said, hell really is your family in an Olive Garden.
Pocatello is perfectly suited to an intimate Chicago storefront and to the strengths of director Jonathan Berry. He elicits fine moments from every single cast member and balances the play's quieter moments with its more farcical. It might be a play about a dying restaurant in a dying town, but under Berry’s hand, these people are all very much alive.
Griffin Theatre Company at Signal Ensemble Theatre. By Samuel D. Hunter. Directed by Jonathan Berry. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins; no intermission.