Thanks to the Denver Center Theatre Company’s New Play Summit, we had the privilege of seeing Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale — which had a reading at the DCTC in 2011 and earned a full production by the company a year later — before it became a major success in New York, with Hunter himself rapidly pronounced an important new voice in theater. Hunter’s The Few, now receiving its regional premiere in Boulder, is a slighter work, less complex and possessed of less emotional richness. But it’s more than worth experiencing for the author’s moving and compassionate exploration of loneliness. Hunter’s dialogue is absorbing: You feel you’re hearing real people, people you care about, and finding yourself sometimes irritated, sometimes surprised or delighted, occasionally deeply empathetic. You’re also experiencing the playwright’s profound commitment to the power of written language. The protagonist in The Whale, monstrously obese, suffering difficult, murky relationships, reached out to the world through his work with student essays from the online course he taught; the focus of The Few is a small newspaper for truckers, and the play is set in northern Idaho in 1999, when practically everyone in America was worrying about what the new millennium would bring. Perhaps all the world’s computers would fail, with blackouts, chaos, rampant crime and disruption of food and water supplies resulting.
The story begins four years after two long-distance truckers started The Few to alleviate the existential loneliness of their trade. Working with a woman friend, QZ, they interviewed truckers and recorded oral histories, writing up narratives in which these men and women shared their thoughts and lives. But then Jim, one of the founders, committed suicide, and the second founder, Bryan, who was in a relationship with QZ, walked out without a word of explanation. Left alone, QZ revamped the publication, achieving a fragile solvency by tossing out all content except a column and a horoscope — both written by her — and running personal ads.