Riverside – Jo responds to a Craigslist ad promising “sex to change the course of the world” with high hopes. She’s doomed to be disappointed, though; not only is her would-be partner high-strung and more interested in the sleep patterns of fish than in her advances: he’s gay. His lab doubles as a bomb-shelter and he’s called her there not for a bit of fun but for a serious purpose: Jules is convinced that a comet is coming to destroy the earth, and that they, despite their flaws, must propagate the species.
It’s a surprisingly simple setup, and playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb milks it for great mileage. There is one twist, however: the existence of a woman manipulating levers and adding editorial comments suggests that we are not in a lab or a bomb shelter. We are, in fact, in a museum. Barbara is not a detached narrator, but a passionate student of the past, and she tells the story with an enthusiasm her employers certainly don’t appreciate. What she says seems ridiculous but could be plausible; after all, Jo, a journalist, did keep a record of the event. So we have to accept the fact that we just might be looking at a post-apocalyptic Adam and Eve.
Though the outcome is predetermined, it’s still exciting to watch the cat-and-mouse game as Jules tries to cajole, convince and connive his way into impregnating Jo. I know, it sounds dark. It is dark, to be fair, but Boom is a comedy, and a very good one. Rarely does much time go by without a joke, from the silly setup to the ironic conclusion. As time passes, the situation escalates from the darkly comic to the satirically outrageous. Jo refuses to have children, citing her neuroticism and her mysterious fainting problem. Jules is that spark of life tirelessly looking for its niche that your biology professor warned you about.
Riverside Theatre, turning 30 this year, has built a reputation for tackling a wide variety of material with consistent quality and professionalism. This production is no exception. Bruce Wheaton’s direction is tight, precise, and, as he puts it in his directors’ notes, “playful.” The acting is outstanding, and the cast approaches this fast-paced piece with courage and tireless creative energy. Kalen Harriman takes over the stage from the moment she enters. She has incredible presence as Jo: she’s wild, sexy, violent, and above all, funny. Scot West creates a quirky yet grounded character in Jules. He’s awkward but endearing, and we can see a calm center in his relationship with his work, his pragmatism and his confidence in “hunky, accurate data.” The pair work together marvelously, and the constant physical comedy in the piece is a delight. Jody Hovland, who plays Barbara, articulates the themes of the piece quite well. Her struggle with “the management” brings home the evolutionary metaphor: we’re all looking for the courage to break out, do something different. Her interest in the story is contagious, and her desperate hope gives the play a sense of urgency. Hovland delivers a variety of monologues both inspiring and amusing with the skill and nuance of a veteran performer.
The set fits the piece perfectly. Painted primarily in white and dark blue, the lab has a very dark, cool feel when lit, while being bright enough to see all the action. Barbara’s area looks like a 1950s science-fiction vision of the future, with a panel of levers and a screen showing mysterious flashing shapes. The final touch is a white border around the proscenium, perhaps representing a video screen or the borders of the museum’s stage. It is a barrier that Barbara ignores during her frequent interjections. All three performers interact well with the frightening but familiar environment the design team has built, and the result is a funny, entertaining and thoughtful piece of theatre.
Be prepared for adult language, loud noises, and intimate secrets. Be prepared for the unexpected. Be prepared to laugh yourself silly. Boom is a smart, funny script, and Riverside’s production definitely does it justice.
Boom is being performed (sans intermission) at 213 N Gilbert St, 7:30pm Thursday – Saturday, 2:00pm Sunday, now through November 21st. Tickets are $12-26 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 319-338-7672.