Samuel D. Hunter. Remember that name, because if the three Sam Hunter plays I’ve had the great good fortune to see over the past twelve months are any indication, this Idaho-born, New York-based playwright is one whose name you’ll be hearing for years to come. A Bright New Boise and The Whale have proven him “one to watch.” The Few (his latest, now getting the sensational World Premiere it deserves), further cements the young playwright’s place in contemporary American theater.

The_Few12_thumb Hunter once again transports us to small-town Idaho, this time to the cluttered trailer/office where 30something QZ (Eva Kaminsky) edits The Few, a newspaper whose twelve to fifteen pages of personal ads phoned in by truckers have over the past four years turned the paper from struggling to successful—and left room for only about fifteen percent “content.”

It wasn’t always so, back when co-founders Bryan (Michael Laurence) and Jim first set up the paper as a way for truckers to feel connected to each other and to the world outside the cabins of their rigs.

The_Few14_thumb But Bryan left town four years ago around the time of Jim’s car accident death, and former girlfriend QZ (the nickname is kept a mystery) has been keeping The Few alive since then with the help of Jim’s nineteen-year-old nephew Matthew (Gideon Glick) and those personal ads that keep the paper’s answering machine jam-packed with the hopes and dreams of lovelorn male and female truckers far and near.

Now, however, Bryan’s unexpected return this August of 1999 threatens to undo all that QZ has done to transform The Few from floundering to flourishing, even if the changes she has wrought have turned the paper into Hot Trucker Monthly (QZ’s words, not mine). Not only that, but as far as QZ is concerned, Bryan had better not entertain any thought of their getting back together, there being a new man in QZ’s life about whom she brags to her ex, “There’s not a single way he’s not better than you.”

The_Few11_thumb The problem is, Bryan doesn’t have anywhere else to go, and though QZ tells him he’s sure as hell not staying in the trailer, the deed to said abode is in Bryan’s name, so like it or not, he’s staying, even if it means sleeping on the floor.

The Few is Bryan’s legal property as well, which leaves QZ little to do but put him back to work, though she’s damned if she’ll let him do any of the writing. Just the longer drop-offs, and as for any idea Bryan might have of firing Matthew, he’d better get that idea out of his head, the teenager having nowhere else to go since his alcoholic stepdad tried to kill him upon finding the then fifteen-year-old “messing around with a boy from his class.”

The_Few16_thumb As QZ and Bryan square off to see just who’s going to be boss (with Matthew caught in the middle), playwright Hunter drops clues as to what caused Bryan’s departure and what has brought about his return. (Hint: It’s not just that he “wanted to come back before the world blows up” on New Year’s Eve 2000.) Matthew tells Bryan about the crosses set up on the highway for Jim and for “the people in the other car,” and we begin to suspect that there was more to the supposed accident than meets the eye.

At an intermissionless ninety minutes and with a grand total of three characters, The Few is Hunter’s shortest and least-peopled play, but every bit as powerful and involving as its predecessors. Eva, Bryan, and Matthew are the kind of people most big-city theatergoers have likely never met, let alone gotten to know (unless like Hunter these are the folks they grew up with before leaving town). And that’s one of the beauties of Hunter’s plays, that they introduce us to lives we might easily dismiss as ordinary and uninteresting and in so doing prove that quite the opposite is true.

The_Few17_thumb The Few reunites Hunter with Davis McCallum, who directed the original New York productions of A Bright New Boise and The Whale, and Kaminsky, Laurence, and Glick’s superb performances prove how clearly and incisively McCallum understands Hunter’s small-town Idaho world.

As she demonstrated a year ago at The Old Globe in David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People, Kaminsky is a whiz at playing blue-collar women whose tough exteriors mask damaged hearts not quite willing to give up on hope. Like Good People’s Margy, QZ is not to be tangled with (just listen to her way of barking “Shut up!” whenever someone’s words displease her), yet in Kaminsky’s gifted hands, you can’t help liking this loser in love and rooting for her to come out on top.

The_Few13_thumb A terrific Laurence gives Bryan the prematurely grizzled exterior of a young Kris Kristofferson or Jeff Bridges, a man who like QZ seems to have had the life washed out of him but still has enough of it inside to keep on trucking and drinking and getting women like QZ all hot and bothered.

Still, it’s for Hunter’s teen character that the playwright saves his richest role (pretty much as he did in both A Bright New Boise and The Whale)—and boy does Glick deliver in one of the finest performances you’re likely to see from a young actor all year. Nerdy, jerky, giggly, chatty, and more than able to stand his ground when need be—Glick’s Matthew is all this and more, and so real you can hardly believe it’s a 20something actor on stage and not an Idaho teen who’s wandered in fresh off the bus.

A dozen and a half callers leave the personal ads heard throughout The Few— from humorous to bizarre to heartbreaking—voiced by talented San Diego amateurs* picked from an open call, the sole exception being New York-based pro Jenny Bacon, who makes caller Cindy humorous and bizarre and heartbreaking … and close to being a fourth character in Hunter’s play.

The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre’s arena stage proves a perfect choice for The Few’s World Premiere, its in-the-round configuration giving audience members fly-on-the-wall proximity to the action and lending the production the intimacy of a 99-seat theater in a house several times that size.

Scenic designer Dane Laffrey has brought to minutely detailed life the interior of The Few’s trailer office—to call it cluttered would be a huge understatement—complete with 1999 computer relics and piles and piles of current and past issues of The Few. Major kudos go to Paul Peterson’s video design which never misses a cue as seen on Peterson’s “antique” computers. Matt Frey’s subtly effective lighting, Jessica Pabst’s character-perfect costumes, and Daniel Kluger’s mood-enhancing original music and sound design (the phone messages seem to come straight from the answering machine at just the right time) are all winners.

Annette Yé is stage manager. Additional program credits include Danny Sharron (associate director/Drama League directing fellow), Sean Fanning (assistant scenic design), Scott Tedmon-Jones (associate scenic design), Brandon McNeel (scenic design assistant), Shelly Williams (assistant costume design), Jan Gist (vocal and dialect coach), and Kendra Stockton (production assistant).

As in his previous plays, Hunter’s rich, complex characters (and more than a few laughs) make The Few far more than a bleak slice-of-Idaho-life. Like A Bright New Boise and The Whale, The Few will grab you by the heart and guts and not let go. It is well worth a road trip to The Old Globe.

*Ken Baker, Beverly Boyd, Darin Bratcher, Cristan Callaway, Dennis Dyson, Hal Fuson, Stephen Gallup, Oscar Gonzalez, Leslie Hodge, David Jantzen, Robert Middlewood, Rory Murphy, Amanda Ochoa, Mikiea Perkins, Scott Roleson, Eric Smith, Kristin Steva Campbell, Tanessa Torralba, Roberta Wells-Famula, Michelle Wills, and Bret Young

Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego.

–Steven Stanley
October 6, 2013
Photos: Jim Cox

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