The saddest moment on a Washington stage this year also happens to be one of the most exhilarating. It occurs in Act 2 of “A Bright New Boise” — playwright Samuel D. Hunter’s unsparing account of the hunger pangs in the barren American gut —when the blandest of bland men, superbly played by Michael Russotto, comes to the vague awareness that he’s responsible for no small amount of suffering.
“I think I might be a bad person,” moans Russotto’s Will, bathed in the harsh fluorescent light of a break room in a big-box Idaho crafts store. As he cups his face in his hands and begins to sob, you are made to feel enormous pity for him, despite the reckless piousness with which he’s consoled himself, a religious certitude that has contributed to terrible hurt for others in his life.
Nothing is pretty about “A Bright New Boise,” a play that marches in the footsteps of Sam Shepard’s acid comedies, set in the weird American West. Yet, you’ll find substantial beauty in Woolly Mammoth’s production, beginning with the mysterious, magnetic ordinariness Russotto manages to project, and extending to the exceptionally fine-tuned performances director John Vreeke elicits from the rest of the cast: Kimberly Gilbert, Joshua Morgan, Emily Townley and Felipe Cabezas. Michael Willis and Michael Glenn, meanwhile, are suitably tranquilizing as a pair of dull types from the central office who drone monotonously on a videotape on the employees’ break room TV.