Samuel D. Hunter’s compelling new play The Few could be subtitled “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Trucker.” Like his last two Off Broadway ventures, The Whale and A Bright New Boise, it’s set in Idaho and populated by characters whose lives are defined by solitude and estrangement. Too many new plays are filled with wealthy, witty, overeducated types, but Hunter finds poignancy in ordinary American souls trying to eke some kind of meaning out of their lives. As characters they may be confined to a specific region, but their universal struggles resonate well beyond the northwest corner of the country.
Set in 1999 in the trailer office of an Idaho newspaper also called The Few, which caters to the people who spend their working lives hauling goods across the country, Hunter’s play reunites Bryan (Michael Laurence) with QZ (Tasha Lawrence) for the first time in four years. He left without a word after the untimely death of their friend and business partner, Jim, leaving QZ to run the debt-ridden paper. She’s turned things around financially, but instead of articles, it’s now made up almost entirely of personal ads. (We get a sense of who some of these sad and funny people – both men and women – are from the phone messages they leave on the answering machine placing their ads.) QZ’s sole employee is Jim’s nephew Matthew (Gideon Glick), a fidgety, gay 19-year-old estranged from his family who hero-worships Bryan from having read his old articles.
That changes when he meets the broken, dispirited man Bryan has become. Matthew’s need to hold on to the newspaper is as great as Bryan’s is to let it go, and these issues erupt into a scary and funny skirmish that leaves papers and popcorn strewn around the stage. Laurence and Lawrence subtly capture the psychological torment of malcontentedness, but it’s Glick who makes the most memorable impression, imbuing Matthew with nervous mannerisms (playing with his wristband, for example) and conveying his neurotic, obsessive nature without slipping from character into caricature.
Credit, too, director Davis McCallum, who’s staged Hunter’s other plays with the same consideration to character details, and set designer Dane Laffrey, who creates their shabby 1990s office confines with exacting detail. In showing that a writer can never predict the effect his words will have on those who read them, Hunter by extension demonstrates that we can never fully imagine the impact our deeds will have on others. At times the play, even though it’s only 95 minutes, belabors this point, but with characters as beautifully depicted as these, you never feel that you’re being preached to.