Like recent Pulitzer winner Annie Baker (The Flick), playwright Samuel D. Hunter is increasingly giving (often languorous, pause-laden) voices to people you tend not to hear in new American drama. The Few, now playing at Off Broadway's Rattlestick Playwrights Theater through June 8, follows the three staffers at a scrappy Idaho newspaper for truckers (how's that for an untapped market?), once a sound journalistic labor of love now teeming with personals ads to stay afloat. Combined with the denizens of Hunter's recent, stunning plays A Bright New Boise (which depicted an on-the-run Christian working at a Hobby Lobby in Idaho) and The Whale (about a 600-pound, gay, suicidal professor), The Few adds another worthy gallery of characters for Hunter's impressively differentiated oeuvre.
At the center of The Few are motherly, rough-edged QZ (Tasha Lawrence, memorable again after her stirring one-scene appearance in The Whale) and 19-year-old Matthew (the endearing Gideon Glick), the dweeby, motormouthed, gay nephew of the now-deceased man who cofounded the trucker paper (also named The Few). The other key figure is the furtive, troubled Bryan (a sly, quietly affecting Michael Laurence), also QZ's former beau, who mysteriously returns after skipping out on the paper. He is particularly saddened to find his once idealistic project is now a wasteland of phoned-in Mr. and Miss Lonelyhearts pleas. The callers, heard on an answering machine throughout the play, act as a cacophonous Greek chorus to our sad trio, all played out on Dane Laffrey's magnificently soiled, cramped apartment set (there are even floppy discs to reflect the play's tenuous Y2K backdrop).
The Few isn't as haunting as Hunter's previous plays, perhaps because it leans more toward the cutely melodramatic (an amusing, tension-breaking scene involving a BB gun borders on the precious). But the playwright with the ardent input of frequent directing collaborator Davis McCallum is nearly unparalleled in depicting the sad and disenfranchised without a trace of pity or condescension. And he brings ample humor to individuals seem decidedly bleak. These Few may be down in the dumps, but they make for excellent company. B+(Tickets: www.rattlestick.org)