While there is no substitute for a professional theater with good lighting and a well-designed stage, the greatest strength of live theater is its ability to put the audience in the middle of the action, edging them closer to participant than spectator. The Acheri, the debut production from The Empty Boat Theater Company, exploits that principle to its fullest.
From the moment you enter the "theater"--an empty retail space near Fifth and Main streets--it's clear you are in for a very different kind of play. The set, a post-apocalyptic day care center, is strewn with toys and garbage and the windows are covered in duct tape. Lumber is stacked in the corner and machine noises rumble softly, creating an atmosphere of unease. Once you enter this nightmare world, the doorman locks you in. It's an effective gag, because it makes you a piece of the play's world.
When The Acheri starts, the lights flicker on and off, giving short, fractured glimpses of a society's descent into chaos in the wake of a potentially supernatural onslaught.
Three people have holed up in an abandoned day care center to wait it out. They have food, guns and each other--all the things needed to survive, which others come looking for.
Despite its horror themes, the play is more impressionistic than it is a thriller. The brief, clipped scenes jump back and forth in time, giving the atmosphere center stage. It's not that there isn't a story, but it isn't one full of carefully plotted, nail-biting twists and turns. Some of the plot doesn't even make sense, but when you're trying to tell a tale about how quickly things fall apart, little does.
What plot there is the cast sells magnificently. Empty Boat co-founder Nick Garcia is so effective in his depiction of a mentally ill character it's unclear whether his story is the revelation of the plot or simply the ramblings of lunacy. And even if you answer that question, the performance leaves you wondering which came first: the madness in his mind or the chaos he inhabits.
If you've ever been to a haunted house at Halloween and wished for a plot to be added, The Acheri is for you.
Conversely, if you don't like having the bejeezus scared out of you, stay away. While many of the scare moments are the sort of sudden shocks that become predictable, they hit far harder in a live setting than on screen. When you add them to the general feeling of dread one experiences being in that room, it's either the best or worst theater experience you're likely to have in Boise for some time.