Regional Reviews: St. Louis
More likely you're thinking of Randolph Scott from The Awful Truth, or Charlton Heston from Omega Man, or Planet Of The Apes, or Sean Connery from Zardoz. You know, the super-sexy new father of the human race. And, yes, I know, Randolph Scott was merely stranded on a desert island, with poor Irene Dunne. Poor Irene.
But Jules is what you get (and he's wonderful enough), because none of those classically handsome lunkheads ever saw that big comet coming to wipe out all humanity. Hence the title, boom.
And Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's 2008 comedy is both surprising and bracing in its local premiere at The Chapel, under the direction of Sarah Lynne Holt. boom was called the "most-produced" play in the U.S. in the 2009-2010 season, and here features two amazing performers, Andrew Kuhlman, and Elizabeth Van Pelt, as the new Adam and Eve.
You may have been lucky enough to see Ms. Van Pelt two years ago, the embodiment of a delightful absurdity: rowing across the Atlantic with Marian Anderson, as a Lucille Ball-inspired Mamie Eisenhower in R-S's local debut of First Lady Suite. And you may have been fortunate enough to see the remarkable Andrew Kuhlman in, well, just about anything.
Jules has planned ahead with a big trip to Costco, as any sensible person would; though Jo (Ms. Van Pelt) is understandably upset to find a cabinet full of tampons and baby diapers waiting for her when she gets there, for a simple Craigslist sex-date (her first ever). It just takes her a while to accede to the circumstances, after he got his first warnings from the fish.
It's a long story (in a 90-minute play), but essentially Jules did what any good scientist does, observing very closely and really thinking about what he's seeingand when he notices changes in fish behavior, it leads him to a series of further investigation and, well, a big comet. But nobody believed him.
The fish, at least physically, occupy center stage here, in a colorful aquarium. They are protected from the coming blast (and blast-winter) in a little-noticed basement laboratory. The real center of boom is the riotous interplay between Mr. Kuhlman and Ms. Van Pelt. It's remarkable to find two young actors who can so thoroughly master comedy the way they do here, with the help of director Holt. Odd, super-naturalistic line readings and unexpected passions on both sides make this a fantastic life-or-death struggle for the future of the human race.
But then there's this third character: Nancy Nigh plays Barbara, who spends most of her time watching the action up behind a lectern. Eventually, she serves as a sort of narrator, giving us a new slant on the whole situation. And in the end it all becomes an aquarium within a larger "aquarium" within a larger "aquarium," and possibly another still larger "aquarium" beyond all that.
A delightful science fiction comedy on a very grand scale, in a pleasantly small theater.
Through December 4, 2016, at the Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information visit www.r-stheatrics.com.