Story: Journalism major Jo has answered an online ad for “sex that will change the world,” or something to that effect. She arrives at the address, where a university marine biology student named Jules is hunkered down in a self-made bunker, where a few fish in an aquarium provide his only companionship.
Jules tells Jo that while he was doing research on a deserted tropical island he observed fish there behaving in an extraordinary manner, which indicated to him the impending doom of life on earth. In fact, he is confident that the world will be decimated by the catastrophic impact of a comet in a matter of minutes.
Soon enough, an extremely bright light reaches the bunker through tiny cracks in the doorway. It sure seems as though something weird has happened, but Jo is so alarmed by Jules’ own bizarre behavior that she can only contemplate escape. For his part, Jules takes a certain delight in learning he was right and thus vindicated for the ostracism he endured by other scientists.
While Jules and Jo bicker about their fledgling relationship and whether it will lead to some procreative sex, a woman appears to instruct the audience how best to appreciate what it is seeing unfold. She works for a history museum somewhere far, far into the future, and she marvels at the fossils that have been preserved from a cataclysmic era when the world went ‘boom.’
Highlights: Written by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, boom finishes off R-S Theatrics’ sixth season with a bang rather than a whimper. It’s quirky, it’s off-kilter and it’s just silly enough to be entertaining while dealing ostensibly with a most sobering subject.
Other Info: Director Sarah Lynne Holt makes good use of both the stage and the main seating area of The Chapel to keep boom moving along at a brisk enough clip to maintain its momentum, while also allowing her trio of players to mine Nachtrieb’s darkly comic material. Boom is settled in a tidy 90 minutes that play out in one act and several different scenes.
Andrew Kuhlman and Elizabeth Van Pelt make for a charmingly mismatched couple in a play that conforms to R-S Theatrics’ season-long theme of “Semi-Requited Love.” Jules tells Jo that he is named after 19th century science-fiction novelist Jules Verne and that his father long ago abandoned his wife and children. Later, Jules’ mom and sister came to untimely ends that have left him alone in a big, scary and indifferent world.
He’s hoping that Jo will share his quest to begin to repopulate the world after Armageddon, even though he is gay and, as it turns out, Jo doesn’t like children. He keeps a watchful eye on the fish in his tiny glass aquarium for any slight indication of what might portend for the fish as well as for Jules and Jo.
Kuhlman and Van Pelt bring an edginess to their characters necessary to make this far-out comedy work. They also infuse Jules and Jo with enough humanity and vulnerability to get an audience to root for them.
More difficult is the part played by Nancy Nigh, namely Barbara the museum guide, who doubles as part-time percussionist on the set. Barbara is a very strange duck in any era, but Nigh succeeds in conveying her character's quirks and annoying peculiarities, such as ending sentences with guttural grunts.
Barbara is bizarre, and so her explanations of how Jules and Jo may have coped (no one, she says, knows for sure) are tinged with her eccentricities. There is no credited costume designer, so perhaps Nigh came up with the frumpy socks, horn-rimmed glasses and sexless attire that accentuate Barbara’s alien appearance.
Keller Ryan’s scenic design features an elongated set in the middle of The Chapel floor where the aquarium sits, as well as cupboards and cabinets on the perimeter of the stage where Jules has stored tampons, toilet paper and other supplies that may be needed to last several months. Unfortunately, the off-stage area where his food was stored was destroyed by a mudslide caused by the comet.
Nathan Schroeder’s lighting works best when the comet strikes Earth, as does Mark Kelley’s ominous sound design.
Boom leaves a curious impression. It’s funny in a dark and dreary way, and all three performers contribute to the high humor quotient. It’s less successful when suggesting the resilience of the human spirit, at least on Barbara’s end.
In an offbeat way it does, however, tell an interesting story, something Barbara states to her museum visitors is essential for the human species in order to survive and evolve in any epoch. So be it.
Company: R-S Theatrics
Venue: The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive
Dates: November 25, 26, 27, December 2, 3, 4
Tickets: $15-$20; contact brownpapertickets.com or 252-8812
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Michael Young