Regional Reviews: Boston
Now we find ourselves in a climate crisis, when the fiction created by the playwright seems not so farfetched. Jules (Nicholas Yenson) discovers strange behavior in fish that indicates the species is in trouble. When he cries wolf to scientists higher up the food chain, they pay no attention, so he decides to act on his own. He runs an ad on Craigslist to recruit a young woman, purportedly for "sex to change the course of the world," and journalism student Jo (Chloe Nosan) shows up in his underground lab (read: lair) for the strangest first date on record. It also turns out to be the longest first date on record when the comet hits and they are forced to shelter in placefor two to four years, by Jules' calculations.
Substitute rising sea levels, burning rain forests, and a couple of the hottest years on record in place of the giant comet, and, well, here we are in 2020. Does someone have a well-stocked, subterranean lab set up for the last two humans to hunker down in and begin to procreate? If it sounds like an exhibit you'd find at Disney World or a world's fair, that thought also occurred to the playwright. Enter Barbara (Stephanie Clayman), the guide at the evolutionary museum far in the future, whose job it is to tell the audience (us) about the historic event that may have ended life as we know it. What actually happened, and what happens next, shall not be revealed in this review, but boom is a cautionary tale.
Pull quotes from reviews of the play when it was first produced (2007-2008) use phrases like "riotously looks at the depths of humanity," "pants-around-the-ankles comedy," and "the funniest play seen hereabouts." My assessment differs, perhaps because times have changed and the doomsday nature of the premise hits closer to home. To give credit where it is due, Yenson and Nosan are an appealing pair of young actors who capture the innocence and insecurity, the anxiety and hopefulness of their characters. Clayman is a trooper who gives credibility to the conceit that her job is to instruct and entertain us, even when she discovers that her position may be on the verge of extinction. From her offstage perch, she sometimes punctuates the action by striking on timpani or a giant gong, and she serves as a sort of puppetmaster, manipulating the presentation by pulling levers and flipping switches to alter or pause Jules' and Jo's movements as she explains the whole experience to us.
Wellesley Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Marta Rainer is at the helm of the starship boom and her design team (David Towlun, set; George Cooke, sound; Chelsea Kerl, costume; Emily Bearce and Graham Edmondson, lighting) conjures up a futuristic world, including the lab with cabinets stuffed to the gills with the necessities of life (massive quantities of bourbon, toilet paper, diapers and tampons), eerie purplish lighting that suggests the use of a backup generator, and a fabulous fish tank that holds the key to the future.
After the comet hits, Barbara explains, "The boom is not just about a loud noise, but a sudden, radical change in the state of things," basically outlining Nachtrieb's focus on the end of the world and starting anew. There are some veiled political undertones (even Halliburton gets a mention) about how the government responds to disasters, as well as the museum's office politics, and we are asked to examine our own preferences about wanting to know or remaining blissfully ignorant in the face of annihilation. For these misfits, it is the chance to make an impact that keeps them going, and the takeaway seems to point to the resilience of life against all odds. As for the rest of us, what other choice do we have?
boom runs through February 9, 2020, at Wellesley Repertory Theatre, Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre, Alumnae Hall on the Campus of Wellesley College, 106 Central Street, Wellesley MA. For tickets and information, call the box office at 781-283-2000 or visit www.wellesleyrep.org.
Written by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, Directed by Marta Rainer; Production Manager/Set Design, David Towlun; Sound Design, George Cooke; Costume Design, Chelsea Kerl; Lighting Design, Emily Bearce, Graham Edmondson; Stage Management, Lindsay D. Garofalo; Vocal Coach, Paul M. Valley; Fight Coach, Sarah Flanagan; Percussion Consultant, Craig McNutt
Cast: Nicholas Yenson, Chloe Nosan, Stephanie Clayman