Ashanti Williams appears as Dr. Eden and Hannah Daly as Sigourney Cushing in Good Theater’s production of “Boxes.” Kevin Fahrman photo

With Christmas on the horizon, there will soon be increased attention given to boxes and the good things that they often contain.  In the latest production from Good Theater, though, we learn that they may also hold some unusual surprises.

Jule Selbo’s “Boxes” is a psychological thriller that intrigues and entertains on many levels and will likely engender some interesting conversations on the way home from the theater as audience members try to unpack its details.

Sigourney (Hannah Daly) is a young Manhattan medical student trying to bring her relationship with reticent boyfriend Marv (Thomas Ian Campbell) to the next level.  She’s also urgently concerned about staying financially solvent and jumps at the chance to become a research assistant for the eccentric Dr. Robert Eden (Ashanti Williams).  She is soon assigned to record her “intuitive” and “personalized” reactions to the contents of a series of boxes that he gives to her to open at home.

Marv smells a rat as he looks into the doctor’s background but is deemed “wimpy” by Sigourney as she starts to find her own romantic neediness enclosed in an evolving cat-and-mouse relationship with her employer. With Dr. Eden’s encouragement, she goes all-in on the seeming liberation provided by opening those boxes and acting in the direction their contents seem to suggest.

What Dr. Eden and his late-arriving-on-the-scene partner Dr. Kelly Banford (Sally Wood) are up to becomes clearer as Sigourney reaches a turning point in understanding their research plan.  Opportunistic fellow student Clifford (Dalton Kimball) also figures in the unraveling that leads to a bang-up finale to this one-act play.

Director Steve Underwood, who also designed the container-stacked set, has done a fine job at slowly building the intertwining themes of Sigourney’s personal evolution alongside that of the larger narrative trajectory.  Scenes are split effectively between home and office with public spaces in between fostering reflection.

Daly deftly gives her Sigourney the feel of a weakened but not ultimately so weak young woman forced to take charge of her life.  Campbell likewise conveys Marv’s newfound fortitude when challenged by the powers that threaten his love. Kimball’s geeky Cliff works the margins of the story with flair. Williams and Wood dance on the line between cool and creepy, finally falling off in one direction as the 90-minute play comes to a close.

Twists and startling chills, leavened with a few fractured references to ancient wisdom and the comical interjections of some offstage ducks, make “Boxes” a fun ride as it explores the wonders of what’s contained within us all.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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