BWW Reviews: BOOM Confounds and Delights as Sideshow's First Season Closes With a Big Bang
So a fag and a bitch walk into a basement and the whole world goes to shit. As a joke, it doesn't really work does it? It's lacking something, some punch, some power, some big payoff (a bang, maybe?) that leaves you reeling.
Playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb knows how to deliver such a dramatic jolt and he does so in his play boom, the season-ending production from Sideshow, the "project" of Actors Bridge Ensemble that has brought something new and exciting to Nashville theater-pushing the envelope through a series of innovative theatrical initiatives that are far removed from the staid old comedies and dramas we tend to see so often on local stages.
Nachtrieb's comedy-which has some dramatic overtones here and there-is cleverly plotted, even if kind of predictable (call me a spoil sport, but when a supply closet filled with tampons and diapers falls open, it pretty much telegraphs what the play's protagonist has in mind). Directed by Mitch Massaro (known primarily as a technical wizard in local theater, Sideshow ensures Massaro will face new challenges as he and the other artists involved engage in some theatrical cross-training) with a focused eye for what works and that which will keep an audience engaged even in the face of the most ludicrous, fantastic and even frightening of situations and with a clearcut vision for how his actors can interpret the script, boom is, at once, one of the most enormously entertaining nights at the theater I've had of late, while also one of the most confounding.
I am confounded because I want to capture the feeling and tone of boom precisely in order to convey for my readers what I experienced-the exhilaration and joy of seeing something other than the same tired crap we see every weekend here in the old Music City-and to do so, I feel a need to use some of the same language. But I can't do that. God****it. (Oops! If I lose my job because of that expletive that just refuses to be deleted, I'm coming after you mother****rs who made me do it.) Notice how adroitly I avoided a pink slip? Why, I probably actually meant to type "GodLoveIt" or "motherwashers" instead of what you first assumed. Let's face it, they're just words and they only have power when you relinquish your own power-and, anyway, foul language sometimes best captures what you want to express. Lord knows it works for me.
Such is the mood I find myself in after watching boom, Nachtrieb's wonderfully complex and yet somehow very simplistic comedy-drama about the end of life as most of us know it-and the two people left to "replenish" the post-apocalyptic world, i.e: the fag and the bitch mentioned in the first line of this review. Jo (Hayley Rose is delightfully foul-mouthed and brazen-in other words, my kind of woman) is an outspoken, sexually-driven young woman who we first meet when she and Jules (JP Schuffman is quite effective as the thinking man's homo-think Steve Kornacki and you have a pretty clear idea of his geeky sexiness-and someone should cast him as David Compton's son and/or younger brother/self in an upcoming production) come back to his basement apartment/laboratory after their first date in order to have sex. Having met via an ad on Craigslist, it's a given the two are going to go at it like a pair of randy bunnies-or sweaty longshoremen, whichever visual best works for you (I'm going with the longshoremen myself; you're on your own)-but obviously, any man wearing "one fish, two fish, blue fish" boxers isn't on the same team as the woman who's humping him so vigorously you think the futon's gonna break.
Jules is a homosexual, Jo is frustrated and, well, you know things are just going to get worse. Which they do, in short order: Jo has this medical condition that causes her to lose consciousness when she anticipates anything bad happening to her; Jules reveals the results of his exhaustive research into the habits of fish in some reef who seem to go to sleep during the middle of the day (not unlike me, I might add) and his calculations which indicate a comet is going to hit the Earth and essentially destroy everything, except for Jules and Jo of course, who like Jules and Jim (the characters in Francois Truffaut's acclaimed 1962 film) before them, will be forced to wander through a post-apocalyptic haze in an attempt to survive, thrive and seek grace. Together.
Okay, I don't really believe that's true necessarily, because I think Nachtrieb's sense of humor, in fact his entire view of the world, is so artistically skewed that his work defies pedestrian explanation by some yahoo like me (although I have to admit it delights me to no end to know that he played Riff in a Brown University production of West Side Story). But I tend to like things laid out in front of me in linear fashion and so if I choose to see Jules and Jo as some sort of latter day Jules and Jim, then so be it.
In fact, as the story unfolds in its twisted, yet geekily romantic way, you discover your role in the whole scheme of things: You are a visitor to a museum where the story of Jules and Jo (not to be confused at all with Jules and Jim) is played out before you in all its edifying glory. Guided by a chirpy museum docent (played with just a smidgen of tongue-in-cheekiness and pert perkiness by Amanda Meador), you learn what has transpired in the 65 million years since their story played out and it's up to you to decide just how little control they had over the events in their lives-or how little you have in your own. It's really rather wonderful and delightful, there are far more laughs than poignant moments, and like all good theatre it makes you think. Even if most of those thoughts end with a word that in earlier times could get your mouth washed out with soap-and even now can get you fired.
Michael Redman's set, which depicts a museum diorama to perfection, is beautifully conceived and even more exquisitely realized, and Jessika Malone's lighting design illuminates the play's action with imagination and wit, while Amanda Meador's sound design offers an evocative, all-encompassing theatrical experience. Hell, I'd live there if I could.
- boom. By Peter Shinn Nachtrieb. Directed by Mitch Massaro. Presented by Sideshow. At Belmont's Black Box Theatre. Through June 17. For more information, go to www.SideshowFringe.com.