Peter Sinn Nachtrieb has written a very imaginative, perceptive, sometimes truly funny play called boom. And you can see and hear those qualities at Washington’s PA’s Off the Wall Theatre. But, as directed by Michael Moats, the playing doesn’t do it enough justice, especially the night I saw it when, in such an intimate venue, one performer forced almost every line and gesture as if trying to reach the top balconies of the Benedum. Plus another sometimes got sucked into matching such exaggerations. Blessedly, the third kept his integrity, more resembling a real person.
Given the premise, you could argue that the characters are not supposed to be living human beings, that this is some kind of deliberate cartoon. But if that is what Moats want to create, he didn’t succeed. And such good material needs a unified and definitive interpretation.
Marine biologist Jules, something of nerd, but with intuitive perceptions, posits, through research among tropical fish that their abnormal behavior portends a coming natural disaster which will wipe out almost all life on earth. So he’s prepared his apartment/ lab in ways to survive and posted a personal ad seeking a woman companion without making it clear that he’s thinking of plans to become the future Adam and Eve. Jo, the woman who surfaces, finds him weird and totally unappealing and wants to leave. When the disaster actually happens, it looks as if they’ll be stuck alone together for decades. Meanwhile, one of several, clever ongoing surprises emerges: a narrator named Barbara makes it clear that we are witnessing a theme park installation portraying the long-ago evident end of civilization. She has some control over what happens in the vivid exhibit, but it is not complete. As in a quasi-independent computer program, bad wiring could go haywire.
Nachtrieb planted a number of original components and gets off quite a few funny lines. Although, when actress Lauren Michaels as Jo spoke, jumped and loped around the tiny interior, her rendering exploded rather than sizzled, splattering meaning against the walls. Meanwhile Matt Henderson conveyed quiet and appealing sincerity as the more human, sympathetic and still naïve Jules, letting his laughs come from the material itself rather than from a pushing it. Rachel Downie’s Barbara sometimes capably walked the line between them, but at other moments sounded as if she wanted to vocally equal her regular pounding of two kettle-drums.
I find Nachtrieb’s use of the drums and their obvious booming one of his many delightful inventions. But, most important, despite evoking genuine laughs, he doesn’t just skim the surface. The developments in Jules and Jo’s story provoke thought-provoking conclusions about how such a situation might really evolve, looking at it over the passage of many months after the disaster outside their overly intimate, yet not truly intimate confinement. Plus, he has placed several equally confined fish in Jules’ apartment/lab, whose presence underlines discussions of evolution theory.
Paul A. Shaw’s masterful set gives fine solidity to the concept, even down to having the diaper cabinet completely provided with diapers against the eventual re-population of the world.
If this is the way the world ends, it is not with a bang or a whimper but with concise 80 minutes worth of winks and chuckles in a perspective that goes deeper than shallow comedy.
boom continues through March 19th at Off the Wall Theatre at 147 N, Main Street in Washington, PA. Tickets 412-394-3353 or 724-873-3576 www.proartstickets.org or www.insideoffthewall.com