Bang or ‘Boom,’ it’s still a leap of faith
By Carol Davis
SAN DIEGO–There are some who, like myself, believe in the Big Bang Theory. Then there are others who believe in evolution and then there are those who believe in the literal translation of the bible. Who can say what’s right, wrong or otherwise. It matters not, but in his dark comedy boom where a theory of evolution meets a theory of doom, Peter Sinn Nachtreib’s ninety-minute (or so) piece reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode in living color with lots of noisemakers, flashing lights and special effects.
Nachtreib’s play boom is the most produced show this season according to Artistic Director (and director of this production) of the San Diego Repertory Theatre Sam Woodhouse. In his opening night welcoming remarks before the show, Woodhouse noted that the play is being mounted in no less that fourteen theatres across the country.
It premiered in New York in 2008 and was a Pulitzer Prize nominee. Now all sci-fi fans can revel in this almost made for prime time TV sit-com as it makes its way through the universe satisfying someone’s quest for the answers of those questions posed above: how did it all begin and how will it end?
Armed with three very talented actors Steven Lone as Jules, Rachael VanWormer as Jo and Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson as Barbara (narrator/witness/ Rod Serling reincarnate?) this little tale of Man? Boy? (Adam?), Woman? Girl? (Eve?) and story teller, boom starts off in Jules’ campus basement/lab apartment (we learn later it’s a bomb shelter) where he has been hoarding enough food and supplies to last him through any catastrophic disaster, which he believes to be imminent.
He’s a marine biologist, and gay. As a graduate student at his unnamed university, he’s been studying the spawning habits and sleep cycles of fish (something he did in his real life work as a research assistant, watching fish spawn for four months off the coast of Panama, while an undergraduate at Brown University in Rhode Island), ergo the interest in the fish. Jo is journalism major who answered his ad on Craigslist for someone to have “sex to change the course of the world”.
She comes on to the scene expecting great sex because of the ad. She’s on it or rather all over him! Right from the get go it’s all about the sex for her. Her journalism project is on random sex in a decaying world. He, on the other hand needs a little foreplay like an explanation of what he’s about, his parents and their disastrous demise and where he’s from. (Did he say he was from Worcester?)
Nachtrieb’s dialogue comes fast and furious between the two and it’s a kick to watch them as she tries to undress/seduce him while he wants to talk to her about his family tree. It’s clever, slick, charming and more often than not, brings about a chuckle or two.
About two minutes into the play though he confesses he’s gay. (Of course the gay thing wasn’t mentioned in the ad). He wants to explain his theory of fish evolution. She’s looking for a story and doesn’t have an interest in marine biology, the apocalypse or him. This is not a case of opposites attracting. It’s more like train crash waiting to happen.
While the two grope, go around in circles about the end of the world he confesses his goal here is to save humanity since he’s already determined life, as we know it will be destroyed sooner rather than later.
She freaks out when she learns he wants her to have his babies so together they can rebuild the world! The thought of having a baby coming through her body sends her flying off into the purple, double bolted, locked steel door that not only won’t open, but it knocks and shocks her out completely.
AND THEN BOOM! Lights, camera, action! Barbara steps in or down.
Definition: Boom: the sudden radical change in the state of things.
Barbara (an imposing Thompson) stops the action, comes down from her command post (a second story platform equipped with timpani, gongs, switches and TV monitors) to inform us that what we’ve just seen is a museum or theme park attraction of what life might have been like thousands of years ago. She tells us that as the docent and storyteller she gets to manipulate the couple and this is only one version of what might have happened.
From here, it’s a leap of faith as to where the story goes. And while it’s charming and the idea sounds like fun, it puts a whole new slant on the way we digest the play.
As mentioned earlier, Nachtrieb’s boom is clever and fun but without the support of an excellent cast, it could have been disappointing. Rachael VanWormer is a woman in perpetual motion as she tries to maneuver around, over and under Lone. Her timing is perfect and she seems to be quite the escape artist slinking and outlasting her partner in the art of lovemaking. Just when we least expect it, she has her notebook out and she’s taking notes, talking to the fish (oh yes, there is a fish tank right in the middle of the stage) and/or crashing into doors.
He on the other hand is a hopeless nerd who ‘gets no respect’. Lone is perfect as Jules. He’s a quirky, oddball and misfit who is ready to move mountains to prove his theory regardless of who might or might not be paying attention. He just doesn’t get it; or maybe we don’t. It’s hard to say. And while the chemistry doesn’t jell for Jules and Jo, it’s a great combination for Rachael and Steven. The two are perfectly matched as too opposing fields in the yin and yang world of their relationship.
Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson is her usual strong willed, strong presence; strong personality and force directing the action and stopping just long enough to give her own rendition of the way things might have been up to this point.
She goes on about what the fish might be thinking and then moves on to her own detailed story of her own conception. It’s a captivating story and one that has the audience’s ear. She’s a master storyteller. Her calm manner is an ideal contrast to the frenetic actions of Jules and Jo.
David Lee Cuthbert’s busy set is just what the doctor ordered in the Lyceum Space especially the upper level with all the gadgets and instruments. Jennifer Brawn Gittings costumes fit the personalities. Tom Jones background music lends a good contrast to the wilder side of comets crashing and drums vibrating.
Director Sam Woodhouse has cause to celebrate for pulling off this entertaining and thought provoking San Diego local premiere of Nachtreib’s popular boom! It continues through Jan. 31st.
Where: Lyceum Space 79 Horton Plaza downtown San Diego
Dates: Wednesdays 8PM; Thursday and Saturdays 8PM; Sunday 7PM; (2PM Jan 30th only)
Tickets: $29-47 (student discounts $18)
For more information visit sdrep.org or call 619-544-1000.
See you at the theatre.