BOOM by Peter Sinn Nachtreib, Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theatre, 3/8/12-4/8/12,
Reviewed by Craig Idlebrook
(Pawtucket, RI) Every creation story has a few holes in it, be it the Big Bang or the Garden of Eden. (I will now pause for defenders of said creation stories to get snippy.) But few creation stories have holes as absurdly funny as in the play Boom, which is now playing at the Gamm Theatre in Rhode Island.
Boom may best be described as what happens after you have to back up your statement of “Not if you were the last person on Earth.” Two strangers meet through a craigslist ad for anonymous sex, but each has his or her own agenda. Jo (Gillian Williams) is looking to take out some sexual frustration and ace a journalism assignment, while Jules (Marc Dante Mancini) believes that their coupling might save the human race. It’s enough to induce performance anxiety in anyone.
Meanwhile in the background, a bizarre narrator, Barbara (Wendy Overly), seems to control the actions of the couple while being unable to control her own; she grows increasingly unhinged when confronted with off-stage office politics.
Scriptwriter Peter Sinn Nachtrieb keeps the action short and to the point, yet he fleshes out multiple themes in short order, like a manic child randomly pulling books off a library shelf. But because he skillfully gives broad swaths of each theme with just a few snippets of dialogue, Nachtrieb keeps us off-balance and guessing, and it’s easy to buy into what he’s selling.
The cast of this production succeeds, to varying degrees, in buying into the absurdity of the play. The acting theme here is over-the-top, which is a fine line to tread while still allowing us to care about the characters. Director Fred Sullivan Jr. deserves credit for making sure his small cast is all on the same page; without such coordination this production could have crashed and burned.
Overly does best as the narrator. A razor-sharp comic hides beneath her suburbia demeanor, and watching Barbara grow foul-mouthed and flustered is like watching Betty White get drunk at a comedy roast. Williams also brings something manic and twisted as Jo, and Mancini eventually wins us over with his character’s sweet-but-persistent attempts to copulate at all costs. Combined, they keep the tone light, but grounded, even in the face of some horrific events and plot holes that ask us to take more than a few leaps of faith.
The set provides a convincing hyper-real backdrop, with intricate design touches to create an ordinary science lab basement. The design allows the mind more latitude to believe the cosmic changes that are taking place outside this ordinary college lab.
And the fast pace of production and script never lets up, so we lack the time to question the creationist myth being presented to us. The play is like one big bang, with a quirky hand at the controls when things get interesting. No one looking for dogma will be satisfied, but they may be in for a heck of a ride.