Plays that are a series of monologues commonly depict the same event from multiple perspectives so as to build on one another and pull the audience more deeply into the piece. Voices From the Boise Hole is a series of monologues by local playwrights Jason Haskins and Evan Sesek and directed by Liberty Leeds Klautsch. It is presented by Alley Repertory Theater and being staged at Visual Arts Collective this week. Voices goes in a different direction, the monologues sharing only one common thread: They are depictions of Boise and Boiseans.
The drawback is that with no narrative, there is little ability for the play to build dramatically or advance a larger plot. That leaves the slice of life scenes to instead function as an impressionistic pastiche of the city. It does that with mixed results.
A piece at the beginning of the play has a guard at the downtown branch of the Boise Public Library recounting the story of its infamous exclamation point. It gains little traction but is followed by hysterical portrayals of an aging musician in the midst of getting his band back together and a woman frustrated by her friend's desire to turn Boise into Portland rather than let it be Boise. When the woman stomps off stage screaming, "this [Dawson's] coffee sucks," it's a savagely funny example of art reflecting society, one that grows more cutting when her monologue is followed by one from an cheerful racist and domestic abuser.
The four-member cast is a powerhouse, tackling multiple characters with ease. The always-entertaining Aaron Kiefer is especially strong across multiple roles, with an element of rage sizzling beneath a delivery that keeps his characters teetering between comedy and tragedy. They were some of the best performances I've seen locally, especially as the pieces are quite funny and excel at breaking the fourth wall by interacting with the audience.
The play's one major shortcoming is that it is arguably too locally focused to be effective on a broader scale. Much of Voices plays out as a giant inside joke. About a third of the audience roared with laughter at a mention of the Kinesiology Building at Boise State, while the rest scratched their heads, waiting for their turn to get a joke.
As funny as skewering Dawson Taylor or the Boise Hole can be, well-written comedy subtly sets an audience up to understand the joke, rather than assuming they have the inside knowledge to get it. There's a thin line between localism and xenophobia and Voices toes it frequently.
This is actually the same problem that was present in Sesek's last play, Champagne Breakfast, which is set in large part on the banks of the Boise River. Like Champagne Breakfast, Voices is frustrating because the core of the material is much better than the sum of its Rod-Stewart-limo-guy references. Those references can render the play inaccessible to those who aren't in on the joke, though it's hysterical to those who are.
I won't deny I was especially amused by a monologue from a lone war protester depicted as a conversation with Boise Weekly's videographer—I am Boise Weekly's resident videographer—or a scene set at Quinn's bar in which a character sings a karaoke song that I've seen that actor sing at Quinn's, but the best monologues in Voices are the least hyper-specific. A scene of a man at an A.A. meeting explaining why he will be buying his next bottle of whiskey is deeply moving. An ex-Boise State football player looking back on the glory days may seem especially devastating to a Boise audience but is poignant and universal enough to translate outside of Boise's boundaries.
Voices From the Boise Hole is highly entertaining and one of the best pieces of local theater I've seen in the last year. It's well worth the small price of admission.
Voices From the Boise Hole is at Visual Arts Collective through Saturday, Sept. 17. It starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $7-$10. Click here for more information.