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The God of Retail 

Store clerks battle meaningless lives in A Bright New Boise at Dobama

There's something profoundly depressing about the job-site rooms where employees go to relax during their work days.These supposed havens are called "break rooms," with no apparent irony.

But that ambiguity, plus a lot more Sturm und Drang, is on display in the break room that is the dominant set element for A Bright New Boise by Samuel D. Hunter, now at Dobama Theatre.

Using minimum-wage workers at a typical craft store as his palette, the playwright attempts a thematic reach-around. While plumbing the depths of one character's personal search for meaning, Hunter also tries to diddle the complexities of a father-son relationship.

It's an ambitious gambit, garnished with a surprising number of laughs. But the Dobama production misses the mark in a number of small ways. And those add up, leaving this promising script to fend for itself, a task it can't quite accomplish.

Middle-aged Will has just taken a job at Hobby Lobby, a store selling silk flowers and Styrofoam flotsam and scrapbooking jetsam. He is greeted by the no-bullshit manager, Pauline, and then meets his co-workers: aggressive Leroy in his "FUCK" t-shirt, tremulous Anna, and sullen Alex.

Things get off to a weird and rocky start when Will introduces himself to Alex and, almost in the same breath, announces that he is Alex's father.

As the employees bounce off each other on their breaks, we learn that Will was recently involved with a church/cult in northern Idaho where a tragic event took place. Carrying that baggage with him, Will tries to reach out to Alex, the son he gave up in infancy for adoption.

Playwright Hunter must be given credit for some crisp and amusing dialogue that pings with veracity. Even though a couple of his characters border dangerously on stereotype — the obscene and confrontational Leroy (a smoldering Brian Devers) and the reflexively self-critical Anna (precisely and often hilariously rendered by Kim Krane) — their words save them.

As foul-mouthed store manager Pauline, Kristy Kruz triggers many chuckles. But she falls in love with the broad end of her persona, losing some nuances that could make her character a little less laughable and a bit more interesting, not to mention creepy.

Since Alex's default comment is always "I'm gonna kill myself," the role doesn't offer the actor, Andrew Deike, a lot of range. Still, Deike handles it well until a rather forced conclusion.

The keystone part of Will is taken by the excellent actor Tom Woodward. But in this case, Woodward plays it a bit too straight; this makes his religious eruption towards the end feel more like a trick than an earned catharsis, and his evident torment over past decisions too glib by half.

In this play, the set should actually be another character, especially since there's a TV on a high shelf showing two Hobby Lobby execs in shirtsleeves droning on about pricing and such. This suggests the set should show even more traces of lame corporate motivational efforts. But Connie Hecker's scenic design is mostly barren. While this symbolizes the emptiness facing Will and the others, it lacks any spark of wit that might elevate it beyond the obvious.

Though director Nathan Motta paces many of the early scenes nicely, too many small beats go unexplored, and the play loses momentum. Frequently, the TV honchos are replaced by graphic footage of medical surgeries. It's a shame this production doesn't use theatrical scalpels to delve as intimately into its characters' inner lives.

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