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Here's an intriguing foundation for an enjoyable play. And it is enjoyable. Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's script is hilarious, and this production was cleverly executed and well cast. But the concept promises us more than entertainment, suggesting big ideas to come, difficult realities to be explored. And this is precisely what Nachtrieb's play fails to deliver.
"Comedy gets people's attention more than any other art form I can think of," director Noah Herman astutely observes in a program note. "When we sit in a crowded theater laughing, we are immediately on the edge of our seats, listening; and once we are listening"“ really listening"“ we open ourselves up for great exploration."
But is boom an exploration? It feels more like a moral lesson wrapped up in a failed romance; and the clichéd moral— basically, "just keep swimming"— is fed to the audience with childish simplicity. When we're told that Barbara's story is identical to those of Jules and Jo ("I will not give up my exhibit, no matter what," Barbara proclaims), it's meant to warm our hearts. In the end, Barbara wraps up the stories with a stale moral we aren't prodded to think twice about— the sort of contrived twist tacked on at the end of Hollywood summer flicks in lieu of structure.
Director Herman claims that laughing at the "outrageousness" on stage will make me "think about the outrageousness in my own life." But boom does all of the thinking for me. Its combination of heavy-handed message, witty TV banter and timeworn platitudes may qualify as entertainment, but it's not art.
Awkward and creepy
That said, I did enjoy most of boom, and so did the rest of the audience. The story is fun. Where the ideas failed, the performances carried the play. There were many well-crafted and even brilliant moments between Jules and Jo. Derick Loafmann, as Jules, is an accomplished physical actor and intriguing to watch in the role of this awkward and somewhat creepy young man.
The set (by Christian Pedone), lights (J. Dominic Chacon) and sound (John Glaubitz) were well done and facilitated the action. The trickiness of the divide between Barbara and her exhibit was cleanly and comically worked out. A red velvet rope sectioned off her props, and behind her was draped a curtain of the same fabric, so that her habitations were just unbelievable enough to be absurd. As the play goes on and Barbara becomes more and more verbal with the audience and less and less respectful of the divide between her and the exhibit, she begins to come downstage to deliver some of her key speeches— a merging of the two spaces that never feels awkward.
A one-woman show?
Which leads me to what I (and everyone else) liked best about boom. The Barbara character, as played by Susan Giddings, is the "outrageous" that director Noah Herman describes in his program notes: the absurd, the satirical. She's bitter but bright, sarcastic in a Douglas Adams kind of way, and inappropriately but unabashedly sexual. Nachtrieb knew what he was doing when he wrote this character; divorced from the rest of the play, Barbara would stand up well as a one-woman show.
For the first 30 minutes, the audience actually applauded her speeches one after another, as if she were Michelle Obama at a rally. Giddings commanded the stage with the confident knowledge of what her part was about. This, I found myself thinking, is what theater is supposed to be.
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