If you’re looking for a heart-warming, uplifting play to put you in the holiday spirit, stay the hell away from Boise Contemporary Theater’s A Permanent Image. But if you’re looking for a thought-provoking, raw examination of human nature that will leave you pondering it for days, this production is worth adding to your holiday schedule.
The new play by Idaho-born playwright Samuel D. Hunter is a haunting gut-punch that comes from nowhere and leaves audiences feeling both numb and exposed. It’s another uncomfortably real look at life from the author of last season’s Norway, a BCT co-world premiere.
A Permanent Image—commissioned by BCT—introduces audiences to the members of an estranged family from smalltown Idaho as they gather to bury the family patriarch after his sudden death just before Christmas. Grown children Bo (BCT artistic director Matthew Cameron Clark) and Ally (Danielle Slavick) arrive after years away to find that their mother has painted everything in the house—including magazines, calendars and the television—white. The house looks like a can of primer exploded.
The children worry about the mental health of their mother, played by Lynne McCollough. But as the play unwinds, so too does the method behind her madness—even if that method would still be considered pretty mad by most.
Without giving away the alarming plot twists, Bo and Ally are suddenly faced with a reality that brings their already-strained worlds crashing down. The two are left to make a choice no one should ever face.
While on the surface, A Permanent Image paints a startling picture of the interrelations of a broken family, it also goes far deeper. The play looks at how some of us cope when confronted with just how small our lives really are in the big picture. While some try to make their lives more substantial by becoming a part of something more important, others circle the wagons and throw up protections, and still others give in or give up.
With a cast of three (and occasional appearances by Arthur Glen Hughes as the deceased father via a series of video tapes), strength of performance is key. All three actors embody their characters, but none more so than McCollough—the audience couldn’t look away whenever she was on stage.
Fantastic lighting design by Raquel Davis and director Kip Fagan manage to make the world of the play both harshly real and surreal—plunging the audience from the stark, cold family home into complete darkness. The use of projections, especially during the play’s finale, are all perfectly executed.
A Permanent Image is seriously heavy material, and audiences should be well aware of this before attending. But for those who venture in, the payoff is equally as weighty.