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Review: 'Norway' at the Phoenix

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3 stars

Samuel D. Hunter's Norway, now in a co-world premiere at the Phoenix and Boise Contemporary Theater, explores the lives of two men who were friends as teens, sharing questions about sexual identity and their religiously conservative school.

In many good early moments, Hunter's dialogue transcends the weight of their teen angst. Troubled teen Andy (Matthew Goodrich) has a funny whininess that gradually hints at deeper troubles. Andy's anti-gay father (Daniel Scharbrough) also lives beyond stereotype; when he eventually becomes unhinged, we know it is not conservatism but sorrow that drives him. Most of Norway's 90 minutes, however, follow the father's uninteresting quest to understand his son by stalking his former friend Brent (Scot Greenwell). The play devolves into a trio of drunken confrontations interrupted by Brent's college workshops on how to reinterpret piano classics.

Poor staging and set design share the blame for this weak production. Despite real talent displayed in Housewives of Mannheim and In the Next Room, set designer James Gross here delivers a clunky hodgepodge (a space-sucking grand piano, wooden palettes, and a worn backdrop curtain with "star" lights) that is typical of many of Phoenix's lower-level productions. Clearly, Basile shows are low-budget, although tickets cost the same as main stage productions. Yes, the stage is awkwardly shaped and has only perfunctory lighting. Still, with attention and care, it can, has been, and should be used more inventively.

Phoenix Theatre, Frank & Katrina Basile Theatre; through Jan. 30. Directed by Gordon McCall.

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