Now… now “what” or now “when”? This one word, and all of the questions it begs begins Samuel D. Hunter’s darkly comical A Bright New Boise, which tells the story of Will, who leaves his church cult after becoming embroiled in a scandal, to reconnect with his estranged son, Alex, who works at an Idaho Hobby Lobby. Most of the action transpires within the break room of the Hobby Lobby filled with the eclectic employees of the shop, and a television that alternates between showing a close-up of non-descript surgeries, and the Hobby Lobby television station, where two men drone throughout the show about random products one can purchase at any Hobby Lobby location throughout the country.
What I want to focus on in this post is the concept of “now” and how it fits into the different types of storytelling presented in the show. This play begins with a very vague now that translates into a here and now—Will planted in the middle of nowhere (indicated in the stage directions as in the middle of a highway). We don’t know anything about Will, except that we want to hear his story; we know there is something behind his many “now”s that pull us into the second scene. This presents a very specific now—the Hobby Lobby break room, where the majority of the action of the show takes place. With just this one word, we are pulled from Will’s word of questions to Idaho’s grounded world of answers. In the space of these two scenes comes the foundation for a story about people trying to tell their own.
In the context of storytelling, the show does a very good job of is incorporating other types of creative writing into the dialogue of the show, which is a difficult feat to successfully pull off. It’s here, in the break room, that Alex demonstrates his pseudo-slam-poetry-pseudo-hip-hop presentation to Will, which he states is his commentary on the plight of the American consumer and the shallow capitalist nature of Americans. Depending on the staging, this rap could either be hilarious or hilariously pitiful, but either way, it brilliantly juxtaposes the droning of the Hobby Lobby salesmen, telling their own blandly scripted story that provides the white noise of the show. Alex’s medium of expression is important, as he’s an angsty teenager, whose repetitive “I’m going to kill myself” reigns as his mantra throughout the show. It’s fitting that his outlet is aggressive and almost aimless, with the false urgency presented in his “I’m going to kill myself.” This story of American capitalism isn’t really his, but he feels that it’s his responsibility to tell, however misguided it might be. Will states that he wants Alex to perform for him because thinks he will be able to connect with what Alex writes, but he’s ultimately looking for meaning in the wrong places.
Will, meanwhile, spends his nights hiding out writing his online novel, which is later revealed to be propaganda for the cult he supposedly left behind for good. His company is Anna, another Hobby Lobby employee who reads boring fiction and always hopes for dramatic endings. Will’s writing is important too, as it’s the only way he’s able to express that he still does believe in the teachings of his cult, despite the performance he puts on for everyone else at the Hobby Lobby. Here, through Anna, he’s able to perform, and yet, feel more comfortable with who he truly is than when he must “perform” his normalcy at the Hobby Lobby. Anna is intrigued because his story is anything but bland: it’s the literal end of the world. It reaches her in a way that Will wants to reach everyone. But however compelling it is, it’s fiction, and this fact is what prompts Anna to ask Will to go to her Protestant church. This question angers Will, and deprives him of the fantasy of a world where the apocalypse does come. A world where people listen to him. Where his beliefs aren’t questioned. A place where he is right.
We spend our lives waiting for various “now”s. The milestones of childhood: first step, first lost tooth. Prom. Birthdays. Graduation. They seem small but they build up to the larger narrative of our lives. Or sometimes they build and nothing else comes of it. Those “now”s are important, too. The minute I finished my last final of freshman year was a “now” moment. I took a little longer to walk back to my dorm. I knew the moment was important but I couldn’t quite touch on “why,” rather, I could only really feel relief. It’s this scene with Anna (followed by a short scene with Leroy, Alex’s adopted brother) that propels Will back to another “now,” a resounding, ending “now”. Alex goes to the hospital. Leroy tells Will to stay away. Will loses both his job and Anna. He is in the same place he was in for the beginning scene: a dark highway. The drama envelops the poetry and the fiction, and it seems as if he hasn’t had a story worth telling at all. Will has nothing to do but wait for the “now”—the now of place, of the apocalypse, of a deserved dramatic ending.