Boise Contemporary Theater's production of Jenny Schwartz's God's Ear starts simply enough. In ambiance and language, it spares the audience all things extraneous.
A man and woman stand symmetrically isolated in a linoleum-outfitted space, lit by florescent lights. The stage is cluttered with objects draped with white sheets, creating an estrangement of familiar components of a modern domestic landscape much like a Rachel Whiteread sculpture.
In this pared-down forlorn space, the woman—realized with great nuance by Tracy Sutherland—makes declarative, eerily telegraphic, deadpan statements providing information about her dying son's condition to her husband, masterfully captured by BCT artistic director Matthew Cameron Clark. She lays out the facts one by one: "He's in a coma. He's hooked up to a respirator. He has a pulse. He has brain damage." The statements are dry, curt and unequivocal.
The economy of language is frustrating for such a tragic situation; however, these initial abrupt declarations are nearly the only instance in the play when words allow information to be delivered in a straightforward, succinct manner. In the subsequent moments, covers are pulled away from objects and sentences become overgrown with verbiage. The physical and expressive space becomes crowded. Candid speech becomes exceedingly impossible for the characters as a noisy world infiltrates and compromises every statement.
In the next hour and a half, the characters attempt with pitiful earnestness to communicate profoundly personal emotions through torrents of ambiguous pop phrases obliquely sutured together based on shared letters, rhyme or rhythm. Idioms and cliches send speakers off on polyvalent linguistic tangents unable to impart anything concrete or illuminating.
At one point, Sutherland's character delivers a brilliant and lengthy monologue attempting to reconnect with her estranged husband: "And you'll swoop down and save the day. And I'll bend over backwards and light up the room. And we'll thank God. And God will bless America. And with God as our witness, we'll never be starving again. And the fog will lift. And we'll see eye to eye. And the cows will come home. And we'll dance cheek to cheek." While laced with humor and hope, it is pathetically impersonal and highlights the characters' isolation and helplessness.
This challenging play features some familiar faces from the Boise acting community, including Lynn Allison and Christopher Thometz. Each rises to the challenge of unexpected and demanding roles, which take guts and breadth of talent. They are joined by visiting artists Beau Baxter, Andrea Caban and the haunting and poignant Therese Barato. Together, they advance a narrative that is as arresting as it is exasperating, as fascinating as it is obscure, as heart-wrenching as it is phlegmatic. Under the direction of Patrick McNulty, Schwartz's work requires the audience's willingness to recognize the work as not absurdist but chillingly familiar. God's Ear exposes the concurrent density and insubstantiality of modern life, and the tragedy that this jumbled existence leaves so little space and so few tools for human connection.
God's Ear runs Wednesdays-Saturdays through Oct. 25; tickets are $20 and $30 general, $12 students and 25 and under. Boise Contemporary Theater, 854 Fulton St., 208-331-9224, bctheater.org.