Whaddya think? If some cataclysmic event wiped out humanity except for a man and a woman, unrelated and of reproductive age, locked in a bomb shelter with a tank full of fish, would we be able to repopulate the world?
Well…like everything else, it depends on the context. For Jules (Stephen Murray) and Jo (Chelsie Lloyd), things aren’t looking so hot. For one thing, Jules is gay, and the thought of making love to a woman fills him with nausea. Then there is the matter of the way they met. Jules, a marine biologist, observed years of fish behavior to conclude that his finny companions were hiding – for increasingly large blocks of time – from something. Jules didn’t know what it was, but he knew it was big and bad, and reasoned that it necessarily threatened all life on earth. So he took out an ad in Craigslist, promising an “intensely significant coupling” to any woman who would come to his lab, conveniently tucked inside a bomb shelter.
Jo, a dyspeptic journalism student prone to falling into a narcoleptic fugue every time she is near danger, takes him up on his offer. She has been assigned to write a story about being surprised by joy, and she decided that an evening of hot sex with a randomly-chosen stranger might be just the thing she needs. She wants to feel the earth move. And it does, although not in the way she expected. After she and Jules share about fifteen minutes of fear, disappointment, and rage, a comet smacks into the side of the Earth, and they are the only ones left.
And after that – geez Louise! The bomb shelter becomes a swamp of self-involvement and mutual disgust. It is hard to imagine a less likely Adam and Eve. Jo is horrified by the concept of motherhood itself; birthing children sired by the despicable Jules is beyond the pale. And Jules, whose first instinct after the destruction of the rest of humankind is to do a little victory dance celebrating the correctness of his prediction, cannot countenance the idea of sexual congress with Jo. His big idea is to use a turkey baster on Jo while she is asleep – which may be why he appears throughout much of the play with his leg in a cast.
And yet – something happened, for we are not seeing the real Jo and Jules, but only simulations of them, presented to us by the docent Barb (Ashley San) in a museum set in some indeterminate future. The subject of the exhibit is How We Survived the Comet, and it is obviously a subject dear to Barb’s heart. She punctuates the story with drum solos. She manipulates the android or holographic Jo and Jules with levers set near her workstation. Sometimes she adds to the known history, much to the dismay of her supervisors. Occasionally the computer program goes off for a journey of its own. (“They’ve never done that before,” she exclaims when, late in the story, Jules and Jo smooch.) Barb is a decent docent, but recently, her show has begun to take on water, and lose viewers. She is a short-timer.
Much of boom is a mystery story, the mystery being how people like us (and Jules and Jo are very much people like us, notwithstanding their extravagant quirks) could possibly rebuild the planet after a Category Infinity disaster. The answer, when it comes, is like a punch in the gut, and Artist Initiative’s sly, guileless production sets us up for it beautifully. San’s pitch-perfect delivery of the play’s final revelation, given as though she was reciting a fact we should already know (after all, don’t we read our history?) gives us one of those rare moments where a few words invoke every moment of the play, and blows away the clouds and cobwebs with hurricane force. It is a moment of brilliance on the part of playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, and San, director Renana Fox and Artist’s Initiative deliver.
Closes Sept 16, 2012
Produced by Artists’ Initiative
Olney Theatre Center
Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd.
Thursdays thru Sundays
1 hour, 30 minutes with no intermission
Which gives rise to a second mystery: can a company which is devoted to giving a stage to emerging artists produce a worthy and financially successful product? The jury is still out on the financially successful part, but there is no question but that Fox and her team puts on a fine, professional-quality production of a good play. Fox’s background is as an assistant director and in directing staged readings, but she shows the savvy of a 30-play pro here. Her decision, for example, to put Barb’s work station downstage left and have Barb enter the stage space while she has Jo and Jules frozen mid-step reinforces, in the way that a more remote treatment could not, the fact that repopulation has already been solved and we in the audience must figure out how it was done.
Or consider Matt Wolfe, a carpenter for Shakespeare Theatre Company, who has designed a perfect set for this space – a wholly believable home/lab for a graduate assistant with no social skills whatsoever, which deteriorates beautifully as time passes with Jo and Jules trapped together there.
Or consider the actors themselves: Lloyd, whose previous work has mostly been in Fringes; Murray, who has principally served as understudies in various productions; and San, whose resume is also on the short side. All three of them give good accounts of themselves, as enthusiastically disagreeable as Nachtrieb’s script requires them to be. I particularly liked San, who gave Barb a vulnerability which, paradoxically, made it more important to get her story finished.
And here’s something else I consider important: the show, now playing at Olney’s Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, costs only twenty simoleans a ticket. If money is a factor in your ticket-buying decision (it is in mine) you can go to Olney, peel off a double-sawbuck or two, take a comfortable seat, and know that you will see a fully professional production of a very fun show.
One final note: If you already saw boom – at Woolly four years ago, or elsewhere – will you still enjoy it, notwithstanding that you know how it ends? I did. The experience is a little different; you’ll enjoy the little clues Nachtrieb weaves throughout his narrative. But it’s still a fun show.
boom, by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, produced by Artist’s Initiative, directed by Renana Fox, with Chelsie Lloyd as Jo, Stephen Murray as Jules, and Ashley San as Barbara. Scenic design by Matt Wolfe; Sound and Production Management by Heather Mork, Lighting Design by Jedidiah Roe; Costume Design by Toni Goldberg; Properties by George Burgtorf,. Will Richardson served as Stage Manager.
Andrew Baughman . DCMetroTheaterArts
Andrew Baughman . DCMetroTheaterArts