For the past several months, Zachary D. Garcia has been living in a Samuel Hunter world.
The actor wrapped up performances of Hunter's The Whale (with Walking Shadow) just as rehearsals for Loudmouth Collective's A Bright New Boise began.
"The work I did on The Whale absolutely helped for this show. My character was very different, but it is all rooted in trying to do the right things but going about it in misguided ways," Garcia says.
A Bright New Boise wasn't the first play Loudmouth looked at for this winter's performance. They lost out on rights for a couple of earlier choices, such as this year's Pulitzer Prize winner, The Flick.
"We read about 30 plays. Someone recommended Bright New Boise," says director Natalie Novacek. "In Sam's work, he puts characters onstage together that shouldn't be together. The chemistry was the first thing I fell in love with in the play."
Set entirely in the break room of an Idaho Hobby Lobby, the play is focused on Will, an Evangelical Christian who has left his small town for the relative anonymity of Boise.
While Adam Whisner comes from a very different spiritual place than Will, he has found other strong connections to the character. Part of the play centers on Will trying to reconnect with his birth son, who also works at the Hobby Lobby.
"I just saw my birth son a couple of months ago. There is so much emotion wrapped up about a birth father reuniting with his birth son," Whisner says.
Spencer Harrison Levin plays Will's son, Alex. "I was really excited and scared by the sheer amount of intense emotion my character is feeling in pretty much every scene. He is on the edge of stable and unstable."
The play's tough subject matter is aided by Hunter's gift for language. "It is some of the easiest dialogue to memorize. The word choice and phrases are how real people talk. The rhythms are so clear," says Anna Hickey.
It's not just Will that's hiding something about himself. All of the characters have secrets. "My character wants to get along with Will. She wants to connect and share, but she hides things. She is dying to connect, but is not willing to," Hickey says.
Karen Wiese-Thompson says she has "a bit of a fundamentalist background. The faith teaches you to shelter yourself from the outside world."
Of course, Hobby Lobby has been at the center of the storm, as corporate religious freedom apparently is more important these days than the reproductive rights of individuals. "I went shopping at a Hobby Lobby for the first time in Nebraska. When I got home, I heard the decision, and I wanted to drive back to Omaha and return it all," Wiese-Thompson says.
While the play delves into serious and dark places, the company has found that there is humor in Hunter's writing as well. The rehearsal process has also been aided by the easy camaraderie among the actors and crew.
The venue, Open Eye Figure Theatre, encourages intimacy. Loudmouth has produced there before, but this is the first time they've done a full-cast production on the tiny stage.
"It's worked over very, very well. It's a tiny break room, a tiny contained space. It works with all the tension," Novacek says.
That tension will clearly be on display onstage over the next two weeks, as will a set of complex characters.
"I enjoy how multifaceted the characters are. There is no clear antagonist. Every character has a likeable part, but also a part that is flawed," Garcia says.
IF YOU GO:
A Bright New Boise 8 p.m. Friday-Monday; January 22-25 Open Eye Figure Theatre 506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis $10-$15 For tickets and more information, call 612-643-1231 or visit online.