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Advice

Review: ‘A Bright New Boise’ a Bright Spot for Elements Theatre Collective

From left, Jenna Scanlon, Aaron Linker, Rob Grayson, Katelyn Tustin and Blake Benlan star in Elements Theatre Collective’s “A Bright New Boise,” running through July 26 at various alternative venues around Santa Barbara.
From left, Jenna Scanlon, Aaron Linker, Rob Grayson, Katelyn Tustin and Blake Benlan star in Elements Theatre Collective’s “A Bright New Boise,” running through July 26 at various alternative venues around Santa Barbara. (Elements Theatre Collective photo)

Continuing with its track record of excellent material and masterful performances, Elements Theatre Collective wraps its fourth season with Samuel D. Hunter’s A Bright New Boise, premiering off-Broadway in 2010.

Excellently directed by Stephanie Farnum, who has turned in some of the finest comic acting in Elements’ history, this quirky and powerful production features a strong ensemble cast of five. The play takes place entirely in the break room of a Hobby Lobby craft store in Boise, Idaho, bringing to mind the cringe-worthy comedy of The Office, but with unexpected depths.

Jenna Scanlon has been seen on stages all over town but makes her Elements debut here, and she fits right in. At first, dedicated but harried store manager Pauline appears businesslike if a little jaded, but as the action gets more outlandish, the cracks in her facade start to show, and Scanlon skillfully illustrates her descent into desperation as she tries to keep it together.

Elements Executive Director Rob Grayson plays the central role of Will, a nice guy who shows up to work at the store under somewhat mysterious circumstances. As more is revealed about his past and his motives for being there, suspicion grows among his co-workers. Grayson shows his chops here, mainly acting as straight man for the eccentricity around him, but portraying a subtle power as a man of faith, as well as doubt.

One of the funniest actors in town currently, Katelyn Tustin is endearingly awkward as Anna. She thinks she might like Will, but is unsure what to do with that. Below the surface she seethes with the unrest of the minimum-wage worker who knows that life will just go on this way unless some grand upheaval occurs. And Anna seems nearly ready to explode, just to make that happen.

Blake Benlan is deliciously unlikable as Leroy. He is a jerk to most people, especially the new guy, and fiercely protective of his younger brother, Alex (Aaron Linker). Linker brings to the role equal parts sensitivity and callous disregard for the feelings of others, making him an absolutely authentic teenager.

This Elements season started out with Nixon’s Nixon, a very clear illustration of the chosen theme, "Power and Influence." A Bright New Boise more subtly embraces this theme with the shifting allegiances of co-workers and family members, and the blurring of the lines between.

A Bright New Boise will run through July 26 at various alternative venues around Santa Barbara. Click here for dates and locations. Elements Theatre Collective offers all of its productions free of cost to the public, but reserve seats at elementstc.org.

— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.

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