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Boise Theater's New Play Shrouded In Mystery

Adam Cotterell
Boise State Public Radio

Graphic Depictions is a new play that opens Wednesday at Boise Contemporary Theater (BCT.) Cleveland based playwright Eric Coble created this one-character show. Coble tends to speak in metaphors. Ask him why a nationally known playwright would premier new work at Boise Contemporary Theater. He calls a premier a birth.

“As with any birth, I imagine, one wants to surround oneself with as many friendly faces and as safe environment as one can and as calm an environment as one can,” Coble says. “Not all theaters are calm, or safe or friendly. I have found BCT to be all of the above.”

Graphic Depictions is the second play Coble has premiered at BCT. It too is full of metaphors. You encounter one right from the top. In rehearsal actress Tracy Sunderland sits alone on stage humming. The set is minimal. It suggests an artist’s studio. After a pause that stretches toward the uncomfortable range, Sunderland addresses the audience.  

“The clouds are coming down on us. Literally. It was on NPR. From a report in scientific American. The cloud cover overhead, it’s descending. It’s physically coming closer to earth every year,” she says.

Those descending clouds are a key. Sunderland’s character Alexa has experienced something tragic.

“I haven’t seen the sun in a very long time,” she says later in that opening monologue. “And that’s why this has to be done.”  

Throughout the play she builds toward some action. But no one involved with Graphic Depictions will say what happened or what is going to happen. Sunderland says unraveling Alexa’s mystery is the joy of the play.

“Gosh, I think I would just say people are going to be really surprised and delighted by what this woman does,” she says.

Playwright Eric Coble explains the secrecy with another metaphor.

“It’s a play that I think you kind of get one trip through the funhouse with,” he says. “There’s one time you go through when you have no idea what’s around each corner. And if one goes through that funhouse a second time it can be a very fun experience, but it’s a totally different experience.”

We do know that Alexa is married. She has kids and aging parents. She works as a graphic designer. And she’s the only character in the play. Alexa talks to the audience throughout, taking them along on her mental journey. It’s personal, but Boise audiences have met Alexa before, sort of. In 2011 Coble premiered a play called  The Velocity of Autumn at Boise Contemporary Theater. That play and Graphic Depictions are part of a trilogy Coble calls the Alexandra plays.

“It’s not exactly the same woman, but in some ways it is. This is a confusing description of it,” he says. But it’s not a typical trilogy. It doesn’t follow a story or characters through time. Each play stands on its own. “It’s about the same woman if she was alive at three different points in her life in 2013. Basically,” he says.

In Velocity of Autumn Alexa is 80. In Girls Guide to Coffee, which hasn’t played in Idaho, she’s in her 20s determined to become an artist. In Graphic Depictions she’s in her 40s trying to reconnect with the artistic dreams she gave up years ago. Art is another key symbol in the play. But director Dwayne Blackaller downplays the importance of metaphor. 

“There’s a sense of high energy storytelling that just sort of holds the whole thing together,” Blackaller says. “Tracy read the play, never having read it. There were three of us in the room, weeping. At the same time completely uplifted.”  

Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio
Boise State Public Radio
Director Dwayne Blackaller gives notes to Graphic Depictions star Tracy Sunderland before rehearsal.

Blackaller says he was also amazed in that first reading at Eric Coble’s beautiful use of language. And as the show has approached Wednesday’s opening Blackaller has kept Coble involved. They e-mail frequently and Blackaller sends daily rehearsal notes. That’s how Coble likes it as a new play prepares for the stage. Remember he compared premiers to birth? Well, his plays are his children.

“You do your best when they’re really little, then as they get larger they have to go off and have their own adventures,” he says. “Then at some point they totally leave the house. You get the occasional post card of ‘hey, I’m Chicago. I’m having a great time.’ Or ‘oh, I’m drunk in a gutter in St. Luis and life is awful.’”  

Right now his first Boise kid, Velocity of Autumn, is off having adventures in Washington and New York. It starts a month and a half long run at the Arena Stage in Washington D.C. in September, then has a tentative Broadway opening later this fall. Coble doesn’t know if Graphic Depictions will follow a similar path. 

He had been worried about the Boise run, an actress alone on stage for an hour plus is tough to pull off. Coble says his concerns disappeared when he heard Tracy Sunderland read it. She’s the perfect person he says, to bring it into the world.