Christopher Burns in Boise(Photo © Sandra Coudert)
Christopher Burns in Boise
(Photo © Sandra Coudert)
It's Stewart's birthday but he's in no mood to celebrate. He's stuck in a monotonous job, his marriage suffers from petty arguments and a lack of sexual chemistry, and he feels like he's suffocating within his own life. When Stewart meets a young, female co-worker who introduces him to the philosophical works of Bertrand Russell, his life starts to change -- but change is not necessarily a good thing. In David Folwell's engaging new play, Boise, it leads Stewart on a path that spirals ever downward.

The journey of Folwell's antihero is, at once, harrowing and extremely funny. Christopher Burns as Stewart successfully captures the deterioration of his character from a seemingly normal, everyday guy to a man who has completely lost his sense of direction. Stewart wants badly to be adventurous and daring, yet he only becomes more and more pathetic.

The ensemble cast is terrific. In particular, Tasha Lawrence as Stewart's sister Jackie brings both humor and a hardened edge to her portrayal of a woman who endures a succession of bad dates and failed relationships. Like her brother, Jackie can't seem to get what she wants. The two characters have an easy rapport; a scene late in the play, wherein Stewart is close to hitting the very bottom, contains some truly dynamic, sordid, tension-filled moments.

Lucia Brawley endows Tara, the object of Stewart's not-so-innocent flirtation, with confidence and sex appeal. Tara is not a stereotypical vixen but, rather, an intelligent woman with a free spirit and definite moral boundaries. As Stewart's wife Val, Geneva Carr is most effective as she quietly lets Stewart rant on and on about his miserable life and his proposed solution to fix it. When she points out the flaws in his argument, you can almost feel the suppressed rage behind her calm demeanor.

Matt Pepper is amusing in a number of small roles ranging from Stewart's dim-witted colleague Bill to the various guys that Jackie dates. Alex Kilgore as Stewart's lady-killing best friend, Owen, probably has the least to work with and never quite escapes stereotype. Still, he possesses a certain charm and a winning smile that make him somewhat lovable in a sleazy way.

Folwell's script is peppered with witty lines and neurotically absurd situations. For example, one of Jackie's dates is an inept S&M dom whose idea of punishment is making his "slave" drink milk and eat his homemade bran muffins. Such light, comic touches help to balance the inexorable drive to the play's dark conclusion.

As directed by Rob Bundy, the intermissionless, 80-minute production moves quickly. Scenic designer Wilson Chin's simple but effective set allows the action to move seamlessly from one location to the next. Brian Russman's lighting design helps set the tone, providing overhead fluorescent lighting when Stewart is at the office, a darkened atmosphere for a bar, and other shifts of color and intensity to match the needs of different scenes.

The show's title refers to an offhand comment made by Tara about running off to Boise, Idaho, where she and Stewart could start anew. Stewart latches onto the idea like a life raft, but it's one that refuses to float and does not prevent him from drowning.