WIUM Tristates Public Radio

How Do I Live in this World?

Oct 21, 2015

A Bright New Boise by Samuel D. Hunter opened Wednesday at Horrabin Theatre on the WIU campus.  It will run until this Sunday, October 25. 

The main character, Will Cronin, has arrived in Boise after a troubling event at his church, a small fundamentalist sect in northern Idaho.  He finds employment at the same Hobby Lobby store where his teenage son, Alex, works.  Alex was put up for adoption as an infant, and Will has not seen him since.  

The play follows Will in his twin efforts to reconnect with the son whom he feels he abandoned, as well as to regain his faith, which has been rocked by scandal at his home church.

The issue of faith in this play, however, is not so much a theological issue as a social issue.  The issue of faith, here, calls into question what one might call corporate conformity.  In the land of Big Box Stores, where profit rules and individuality is suppressed, the play increasingly compares Will’s obedience to God to an employee’s compliance with corporate procedures.  While all the characters are tenuously kept in check by their respective corporate “gods,” ultimately, it is Will who has the most trouble reconciling his own personal freedom with his faith. 

In some ways, the play hearkens back to the mythological Oedipus.  As a tragic hero, Oedipus is a generally good man who makes a great error in judgment.  Traditionally the scholarly community has thought of Oedipus’ error as hubris or arrogance: Oedipus puts himself on par with the gods, and is therefore punished for his arrogance. 

Rachel Chaves
Credit Rich Egger

But a careful reading of the text reveals another error: rage.  Oedipus frequently flies off the handle, insulting his confidantes, torturing elderly men, and even killing the person whom he later discovers to have been his father.   Rage and arrogance both contribute to Oedipus’ tragic fall.

In A Bright New Boise, Will also displays arrogance and rage.  His arrogance stems from his utter conviction that he is one of a chosen few who will be saved when the Rapture arrives.  Will’s rage, though, is carefully hidden and emerges only once in the play: it is unleashed on a young woman, Anna, the smallest and weakest member of this misfit group. 

With the questioning of his faith, and with the crumbling of his certainty in God, Will rages.  He lashes out to feel powerful again, to have control, to know something, anything, for certain.  In doing so, he alienates anyone with whom he might have had the chance to connect, anyone who could have loved him.

In this sense, A Bright New Boise is a cautionary story, a morality tale, about the dangers of certainty, and the cost of arrogance, that accompany fundamentalist thinking of any stripe, be it corporate policy or religious creed.  I am reminded of a passage from Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:

“When you understand one thing through and through, you understand everything.  When you try to understand everything, you will not understand anything . . . To be independent in this true sense, we have to forget everything which we have in our mind and discover something quite new and different moment after moment.  That is how we live in this world.”

Will understands one thing through and through: that if he obeys God, he will be saved when God comes to ravage the earth during the End Times.  It is a pattern of belief bestowed upon him by a lifetime of submission to a charismatic church leader.  But his thorough understanding of that one thing, as Suzuki theorizes, prohibits Will from living in the world.  He abhors this world, its people, its materiality, its imperfections.  He hates difference.  He fears difference, even his own.

Moreover, the certainty and comfort promised by his faith never come to pass.  In the final moment, Will is left broken, lost, and in terror of the mundane world from which he desperately hoped God would save him.  As though awake for the first time, Will looks at the world of corporate box stores and imperfect human relations and asks: What now?  How do I live in this world? 

And this is the question we hope to leave the audience with as well.

Rachel Chaves is as Assistant Professor of Theater at Western Illinois University, and she’s Director of the production of “A Bright New Boise.”

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio.  Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.