There's Chinese Tunnels Under Boise! opens on a beat-up 1980s basement couch strewn with junk food and Nintendo controllers. Decked out in worn Star Wars and Metallica T-shirts, Dwayne and John rapid-fire nicknames at each other--dillrod and dicklicker--with practiced, brotherly ease. But from the first hilarious moments of Empty Boat Theatre's new original play, it's apparent that this Wayne and Garth/Beavis and Butthead/Bill and Ted duo will be much more than cliched comedic relief.
Originally staged at Neurolux in 2000, There's Chinese Tunnels Under Boise! was a much different play in its previous incarnation. Written by Nick Garcia, Tom Willmorth, Ira Amyx and Dale Slack, the play featured a hearty dose of political satire. The new rendition, penned by Garcia, keeps only the name and the central plot device, which is so ingenious, funny and arrestingly poignant it would be a shame to spoil it here.
The production follows the friendship of Dwayne, played with wide-eyed earnestness by Dwayne Blackaller, and John, played with ham-fisted hilarity by John Adkins, as they embark on an adventure to find Boise's legendary Chinese Tunnels. Dwayne is hoping to impress an old flame, Lina, who's back in town to visit from Seattle sporting black clothes and snotty affectations. Peppered with references to Pojos, Pronto Pups, the Brass Lamp and 7-11, Chinese Tunnels is teeming with nods to old-school Boise, a device that elicits knowing chuckles from the audience and readily separates the Boise OGs from the imports.
"John burned down the Eastman Building last winter, but don't worry, they'll fill that hole in no time," Dwayne tells Lina, explaining what has gone down since she's been away.
But under this comedic veil lurks much darker sentiment. Dwayne, Lina and John are still struggling with the death of Dwayne's party-boy brother, Ricky. And in the years that have passed since he died, each has interpreted the tragic events through a different lens.
"You have a really different take on everything than I do," says Lina, played by the lovely Anne McDonald.
Ultimately, there's Chinese Tunnels Under Boise! is an exploration of memory and perception: the way our minds fill in details that aren't necessarily true and forever alter the paths we take. It's a refreshing and tender treatment of this very relatable theme, wrapped in comedy, adventure and innumerable references to The Legend of Zelda and Pink Floyd. Empty Boat is to be commended for this well conceived and thoroughly entertaining original production.