There are a few firsts associated with the production of “A Bright New Boise,” which opened this week in Portland.
It’s the first time the one-act drama about a father who tries to reconnect with a son he gave up for adoption has been presented in Maine.
It’s the first time the new 75-seat theater at Portland Ballet has hosted a play.
And it’s the first time that Fenix Theatre Company and Dramatic Repertory Company have collaborated.
All of which makes “A Bright New Boise” a fairly significant event for the Portland arts scene.
The partnership between Fenix and DRC is a result of mutual admiration. Rob Cameron, artistic director for Fenix, and Keith Powell Beyland, DRC’s artistic director, have liked each other’s work for a few years. Cameron appreciates the smart choices that Beyland has made in bringing plays to town that otherwise would not get a shot north of Boston. And Beyland loves the wit and edge of the Fenix Shakespeare shows at Deering Oaks Park.
“One of the things we both value is doing good work and doing good work with people who are similarly minded,” Cameron said. “We thought it would be a natural to work together. Maybe a year and a half ago, Keith had approached me about working as an actor in a DRC show. At the same time, I was thinking about moving Fenix indoors and giving our company a modern context. But I didn’t know how to do it.”
“A Bright New Boise” provides what both artistic directors hope will be a perfect vehicle for their partnership.
Beyland heard about the play a few years ago, read the script and decided he wanted to produce it. Written by Samuel D. Hunter, it focuses on a 39-year-old man named Will, played by Cameron, who shows up at a big-box crafts store in Boise, Idaho, in hopes of re-establishing a relationship with his son, Alex, whom he gave up for adoption 17 years ago.
The show has a religious element, which leads to the central theme of “A Bright New Boise”: The audience must consider which is more important, the present or the ever after.
“I think this play is very theatrical, with great dialogue and language and a script that asks us to look at the world at large,” Beyland said. “When I read it, I decided right away that I really wanted to do it. At about the same time, I had just seen ‘Next Fall’ at Good Theater, and I really liked Rob’s performance in that play. As I watched him, I thought, ‘That’s Will.’ If I could pick anyone to be Will, it’s Rob.”
Powell directs the show, which also includes Abigail Killeen, Erik Moody, Gabriel Walker and Bess Welden.
The playwright Hunter is considered an important young artist, whose best-known work is a more recent show called “The Whale.” He won the OBIE Award for Playwriting for “A Bright New Boise,” which also garnered a Drama Desk nomination for best new play.
This show marks the first time Portland Ballet has made its new theater available for something other than dance. The theater, located next to the Portland Ballet studio on Forest Avenue, has about 75 seats and a proscenium-style stage.
The other noteworthy aspect of the production is the price. While regular ticket prices are $20, anyone 25 or younger will be admitted free. In addition, $10 rush seats also are available.
The idea, Cameron said, is to entice young people to the theater. Fenix is used to presenting its show for free at Deering Oaks. By keeping tickets affordable and making discounts widely available, it hopes to make this play as accessible to as many people as possible.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: