The theater is a vortex in which patrons can be transported far and wide: east, west; forward, backward in time; to the real, the fantastic, the historical. No place, no thing, is off limits in a house of drama. Knowing theater has no limits, Boise Contemporary Theater dares to whisk us away to a magical, although familiar, world—one a couple hundred miles north in the mountains of Central Idaho.
The star? Wyatt Munro, the final surviving Idaho Wildman, or so he claims. Played by Arthur Glen Hughes, Munro has just crossed paths with a couple of developers who plan to open the next Tamarack in the middle of his beloved mountain home. The pair spout marketing lingo like song lyrics and have visions of busty coeds, exotic coffees and dollars flowing through the forest. Though he's advised otherwise, Munro refuses to collaborate and, as an act of desperation, temporarily abandons his hatred of the government long enough to beg an EPA official to brand him an endangered species: the very last of his breed of self-sustaining, grumbling, bearded, gun-totin' hill-dwellers. Munro gets his first taste of the trouble he's invited when a Fish and Game officer arrives to inform him his request has been approved.
Munro's journey from the start of his conflict to its resolution takes the audience many places: the woods, the sheriff's office, Munro's cabin, the town diner and the marketers' offices. At one point, the aisles of BCT itself are a wooded path where a Steve Irwin clone is filming a reality show about sneaking up on the Wildman. If audience members aren't yet hip to writer Maria Dahvana Headley's madness at this point, they may be more lost than Munro.
Headley's writing is witty, mixing pop and Idaho cultural references into all her scenes. If you're a devourer of Internet iconography, you'll feel right at home, even more so if you were reared in the Gem State, as was Headley.
The lofty intelligence of Headley, who was raised in Marsing and attended college in New York, almost bests her audience. Slapstick moments garner as many, if not more, giggles than the biting satirical ones. At times, I couldn't help but be reminded of host Jon Stewart completely outclassing Oscar viewers last year. There are also moments when the author's love of the profane borders on overuse. I've been to Bronco-Vandal games where f-bombs were dropped less frequently. But in defense of the language, her characters are goddamn colorful, to be sure.
The use of technology is something that makes this staging a perfect fit for BCT. On entry, patrons are first met with a minimalist set. A hand-painted "No Trespassing" sign staked into the floor sits beside a giant white curtain onto which a postcard-worthy scenic Idaho snapshot is projected. On opening night, director Matthew Cameron Clark thanked contributors in front of the screen pre-play, but on subsequent nights, the crowd's first introduction will be to the development duo wandering in front of the screen, both used as their backdrop and a multimedia presentation. Americana songs crop up as segues, diner background sounds and a cell phone ringtone.
If you see Last of the Breed, remember the play showcases the talents of only five actors. Without a copy of the program, it's easy to believe the staging features at least twice as many, such is the swirl of action and characters. Joe Knezevich and Michael Denney—who play developers, eccentric townies and the voices of two taxidermied animals (Carlos Casteneda the moose and Sherman the bald eagle) among others—play more than 10 characters between them and must change costumes as frenetically as a Britney Spears backup dancer. Lada Vishtak and Tracy Sunderland play three and two roles, respectively, while Hughes' Munro is his only foray.
All the characters—stuffed animals excepted—are stereotypical. Munro is a camouflage-wearing separatist, the developers every scheming marketer you've ever met. We meet the conservative advocate, the "green" guy and the valley girl. Together, though, they're more than just caricatures; they're a motley portrait of Idaho and society at large. A more socially conscious reviewer might challenge the content, asking, "Isn't this a negative spin on our fair state?" To which I might respond: Headley doesn't perpetuate stereotypes; she understands them only too well, a trait she uses to turn them on their ear.
Playgoers are cautioned about the play's strong language for good reason. There's plenty of it. There's also plenty of intelligence (if you miss a few of the references, don't feel bad; I had to Google at least one thing when I got home) and plenty of plain, ridiculous fun. You couldn't ask much more of BCT. Well, maybe the state's tourism board would lodge one request. Though Headley's intuitive characterization of Idaho is obviously comical, it's also clearly all too accurate. Knowing this, please protect our tourism dollars and don't let this woman write our visitor brochures.
April 16-18, 23-25, 30-May 2, 8 p.m.; April 19, April 26, May 3, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; $12-$30. Boise Contemporary Theater, 854 Fulton St., 208-442-3232, bctheater.org.