— An older gentleman’s pronouncement, in that quiet moment between applause and exit.
In theatre, we have the magic of a dream; a world creating and dissipating in front of our eyes.
boom, by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, explodes with vigorous wackiness. This is the dream where your boyfriend tells you he’s into the other gender, your teeth fall out, and you swallow a neon sign and turn into a glowing starfish, all in one. When the last, perspired brow of the performers dips down and out, the confetti settles. You are left with abstract memory.
The experience of watching boom, and the way in which I now reflect upon it, are disparate. On the one hand, my companion and I were cramped with left-field laughter. Nachtrieb’s dialogue and unexpected plot devices, particularly in the first half, boggle with invention. I found myself thinking, What a gift! The gift of the unexpected! On the other hand, upon reflection: ‘That was entertaining but not… prolific.’ Is this a bad thing? By no means.
The American playwright could win a Guinness World Record for longest biographical presentation; in his own words, it’s ‘lengthier than you wish it to be’. You wonder if he is referring to the two full pages in a font size for 20/20, or his impressive height, 6’’6, which is reiterated twice. Perhaps it is this height which lends itself to a bird’s-eye for form and human idiosyncrasy. In boom, it is unique and well defined.
The play first premiered at Ars Nova, one of the coolest off-Broadway spaces in New York City for fostering talent. It then became the most produced play in the US between 2009 and 2010. And no wonder. Nachtrieb has inherent inventiveness and contemporary appeal. He integrates realism and absurdism to regurgitate outrageous laughter, just when you think you’ve settled enough to sip your merlot. Curveballs? Many. Zany and impressive.
It is also so clearly his work; no doubt about it. When Jules, his biologist who has predicted the end of the world, is having an unload sesh with his fish, you get the sense that this is the playwright talking to himself. Which is cool. And hilarious. And just sorta makes sense.
So…what is this play actually about?
Boom, as in ‘ka-boom’, ‘finito’, ‘achoo’, ‘gesundheit’, is about the end of the world. An American biologist, Jules, and a British journalist, Jo, meet for a night of… firsts. What she doesn’t expect is for the door to be locked. What she really doesn’t expect is that this guy does not want to hurt her. What she really, really doesn’t expect is that, the world is about to end, and he wants to fertilize her to save the human race. And all the evidence is right there in his fishbowl. Distressed, Jo? Don’t worry. Jules has ‘a large crate of books on grief and loss.’ Barbara, our host for the evening, wields a strange power over the unfolding circumstances. She furnishes our experience with an array of instruments (percussion), levers (drama) and commentary.
Upon entering Theatre503, you are greeted with triumphant, Disney-World-like music. You settle into your chair, beverage in hand, and observe the pod-like set. Designer Nicola Blackwell brings us to a very utilitarian living area, with beanbags, a very important fishbowl and a large, hull-like door. It could be a loft in a warehouse in Brooklyn. Actually, we’re in an underground bunker.
The familiar hush of a polite audience falls. A middle-aged woman dressed in a green suit descends the stairs. Her name is Barbara (played by Mandi Symonds). Barbara is committed to her job. Barbara is living, breathing, uniformed Gusto.
Throughout the evening, Symonds uses the rich melange of language in her monologues with command and clarity. Her passion brims as a sort of tightness in the chest, triumphantly flinging uniformed limbs to thwart the coldness of authority. Today is her last day in this job, and she is determined to tell this story. We are not spoon-fed exposition. We observe just the right amount of information to work out that… this is a museum. Barbara is our expert host, and we are watching the inception of our race.
Jules ‘was a water birth…unintentionally.’ Now all grown up, he has stumbled upon an impending event, catastrophic for the world as they know it. His analytic version of social interaction just really wants to connect with Jo, played by Nicole Sawyerr. It is his privilege, nay, his duty, to preserve the human race. His insurmountable obstacle to actually enjoying sexual intercourse with her (Jules is gay and Jo is irritable), is no buffer to his enthusiasm. He will never give up.
Will Merrick as biologist Jules, down to his pink flamingo socks, is the most at home in the American vernacular. ‘My sweet, funky, accurate data’ rolls off the tongue with relish; his predictions were correct! The world as they know it is gone. Now comes the fall. Merrick’s way of stepping into Jules’ shoes is seamless; you almost believe he goes home after the show this way. The uninhibited, boyish smile he broke out into at the curtain call, suggests this is impressively not the case. He is specific and dynamic and the audience, laughing, falls in love with him.
It is hard to deny the charm and comedy of this piece. Nachtrieb has provided a surprising and entertaining work, performed with panache by these three players. The real stars of the story, however, are Jules’ fish.
Just why is the fishbowl so important? I’ll leave that for you to find out…
Written by Bianca Kenna
Boom by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb,
plays at Theatre503 from 2nd – 26th August.
Directed by Katherine Nesbitt, featuring Will Merrick, Nicole Sawyer and Mandi Symonds. www.theatre503.com
(c) Bianca Kenna