BWW Reviews: Black Lab Theatre's BOOM - Bombastically Funny, Exploding With Insight
In our current culture, it is impossible to escape tales of the apocalypse. As a collective audience, we are inundated with zombie pandemics and deadly catastrophes. Then, every so often we are treated to a fresh and original look at the end of humanity. This is exactly what Black Lab Theatre is offering Houston with their production of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's big bang of a hit comedy BOOM. The play was understandably Theatre Communications Group's most produced play in the 2009-10 season. This fresh take on the end of the world is a fantastic way for Black Lab Theatre to begin their new season in addition to being a wonderfully entertaining comedic tour de force.
In the play, Jules, a male marine biologist, uses the infinitely random connections of Craigslist to invite a woman, Jo, a female journalism student, to his subterranean apartment/lab. Jules' online ad promised "kissing, body contact, oral sex, and intensely significant coupling." With the approaching apocalypse, which no one but he seems to be aware of, he reveals his motives were to repopulate the earth with "sex to change the course of the world." Jules and Jo's awkward dynamics are being overseen and controlled by Barbara, who is half museum docent and half god-like figure. Her space is reminiscent of a 1950s view of the future, complete with levers and dials that affect everything from lighting to what the characters do. With this setup, the show explores the will of some creatures, including humans, to survive against all odds and raises questions about how much free will we actually have access to. All of this is polished with a comfortable veneer of riotous doses of humor.
Justin Doran's directorial leadership is on fantastic display in this production. Pacing never lags during the almost 90 minute, intermission-less show. His cast is obviously prepared and polished, adroitly conveying their characters to the audience with the utmost professionalism and perfection. No beat is dropped, and no cue is missed. The three performers work together solidly and deliver a coherent performance that is just as thought provoking as it is funny.
As Jules, Jordan Jaffe, Black Lab Theatre's Founding Artistic Director, is remarkable to experience. His characterization is consummately believable because he utilizes the stereotypes at his disposal to create a nerdy character that is never offensive or off-putting to that population of society. Instead, Jordan Jaffe's Jules is so intrinsically conceived and conceptualized that the audience truly feels they are viewing a real person and not a portrayal of a person. Moreover, he has a brilliant sense of timing and the ability to deliver lines designed to elicit laughter in such a comfortable way that there is no anticipation of a laugh evident. Which adds a gleaming spontaneity to the characterization, firmly keeping it in the realm of the realistic. Simply put, Jordan Jaffe is brilliant on the stage.
Lindsay Ehrhardt is sublime as the angst addled, superficially indulgent Jo. Much like the misguided, misunderstanding, misplaced 20-somethings on HBO's GIRLS or Bravo's Gallery Girls, Jo is wonderfully egocentric and equally fascinating. Lindsay Ehrhardt fully commits to her characterization and keeps it natural and believable as well. Furthermore, she guides the audiences' attention and laughter with ease. Whether collapsing at random or uttering curse words, her Jo is hilarious and complete with convictions and concerns that the audience can fully understand and commiserate with.
Barbara, as portrayed by Celeste Roberts, is the evening's shining star. Without Barbara, the play would still be humorous but may feel confused and directionless. Celeste Roberts, as a narrating and god-like figure, spends a majority of the show breaking the forth wall and interacting with the audience. She does this with zeal and finesse, entertaining the audience with each audacious line (especially when describing and acting out her conception). Moreover, Celeste Roberts really understands her physicality and can control every muscle in her body and each fiber of her being in a way that is sure to elicit peals of laughter and other emotional responses from the audience. Whether looking creepy and foreboding with eyes wide open or interjecting herself in Jules and Jo's embrace, she was utterly fabulous in the performance. Additionally, her proficient and enchanting comedic stylings reminded me of the best aspects of Cheri Oteri and Ana Gasteyer.
Ryan McGettigan has designed a fantastic set for the piece that optimally utilizes the space available. It is complex and highly detailed but feels magnificently minimalistic. Nothing seems inappropriate or out of place, allowing the set to complete the picture that the script and actors are creating in a exceedingly practical way. Furthermore, it is designed with the audience in mind and no seat in the small theatre seems to have been given a bad sightline.
The lighting design by Eric Marsh is magnificent and intricate. With nothing short of a fine-toothed comb, each element of the light design is purposeful and utilized for maximum effect. The design adeptly shifts as needed for Barbara's control of the events and looks fantastic doing it. In this case, the light design is not only relevant to the story, but as a character in and of itself adds another layer of believability to the production and fully illuminates just what Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's words suggest and imply.
Likewise, Yazmine Zepeda's sound design is great too. The sound effects chosen sound completely appropriate and are offered at the perfect volume. Perhaps one of the best moments is that we, as an audience, don't hear the actual boom of the apocalypse, but are treated to many other sounds and Barbara's booming timpani throughout the evening.
Black Lab Theatre's production of BOOM is bombastically funny and exploding with insight. Not to mention, the plot has a few fantastic tricks up its sleeves to ensure that you have never seen the apocalypse handled quite like this, which keeps it fresh and entertaining from beginning to end. It is superb production, where every element works together to create a dazzlingly plausible picture that is sure to amuse while giving reasons to think.
Black Lab Theatre's BOOM runs at the Wildfish Theatre until September 29, 2012. For more information and tickets, visit www.blacklabtheatre.com or call (713) 477 – 3552.
Photos by Richard Jaffe.
Celeste Roberts as Barbara.
Jordan Jaffe as Jules.
Lindsay Ehrhardt as Jo.