BWW Interviews: Black Lab Theatre's BOOM Cast and Crew Talks the Apocalypse and the Upcoming Season
Black Lab Theatre is busy putting the bang into the BOOM by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. The cast and crew are hard at work rehearsing their upcoming production of the popular dark comedy. During Friday evening's rehearsal break Jordan Jaffe, Black Lab Theatre's Artistic Director who is playing Jules in the show, Lindsay Ehrhardt, who is playing Jo in the show, Justin Doran, who is directing the show, Aaron Garrett, who is one Assistant Director, and Luna Oliveira, Black Lab Theatre's Dramaturg and also an Assistant Director for the show, all sat down with me to talk about BOOM, the apocalypse, and Black Lab Theatre's upcoming season.
How did you decided to program BOOM? Did the theories about 2012 bringing about the end of the world have any impact on your decisions?
Jordan Jaffe (JJ): Well, I'd had the script for about a year or so, and I just loved it. It was really funny. I was kind of waiting for the right time to do it, and I figured I'd just kind of take advantage of the fact that it is 2012 and this could pretty well be our last opportunity to do this play. (Laughs) But, also keeping with what I want to do with Black Lab [Theatre] is to kind of be part of the national trends, cultural phenomena, and what's really happening now, you know. Present in our society is this theme of the end of the world in 2012, and it is really popular. But also this is a play that's been done all over the country and in New York, so I'm very, very pleased to be doing the Houston premiere of this particular work.
What type, if any, research did the cast and/or crew do to prepare for BOOM?
Justin Doran (JD): To answer your question directly, the research that we did obviously has a strong biology slant, and we're very fortunate that the two assistant directors on this program have very strong science backgrounds. Luna is a biologist, and we're very interested in the notion that the play presents about this argument between, if you can break it down, evolution and also creationism. Then, it also raises some questions about intelligent design. We've been approaching our research from a biology standpoint, and I'll let Luna talk a little bit about what we discovered about the embryos of the human and the actual fish in utero. So, I'll turn it over to Luna, who is our resident biological dramaturg here.
Luna Oliveira (LO): (Laughs) Well, doing my research I found out that human embryos and fish embryos are actually very alike until they reach seven days, and they look exactly the same. And humans, when they're embryos, they have these structures on their necks, or basically where their neck would be, that look like gills. In fish embryos these structures evolve, I guess, to gills, and in humans those structures turn into their inner-ear bones. So that...
JD: So, could the play happened? Yes, it could! There's a line in here about the series of consequences, and I believe it is Jules' line. (Asking Jordan Jaffe) Do you know it off the top of your head?
JJ: Um... how's this influenced by forces from the environment or, uh, the chemicals... I forget it. (All laugh)
JD: Eventually, we'll learn this.
JD: And then we'll do this play. But about all of these random occurrences, they all lined up so that this could actually happen. And obviously, if you know the play, you have this character Barbara that might be this God/controlling figure. And another character in the play actually pokes fun at the fact that there's this person in the sky, this person right, who is controlling all of these levers and making us do the things that we do, which brings into question free will, and how much that actually exists. It's really neat because as our main characters are watching the fish, we have Barbara watching our main characters, and then we have the management structure that oversees Barbara, watching her. So, we can only imagine who is watching them and so on and so forth, and who the fish might be watching. We really like the concept and zooming in on that, I think our set will be designed around that concept as well, as we touch base on this retro-futuristic approach that we're designing from.
The main character uses Craigslist to lure his date to his basement. So, does technology play a literal and/or figurative part in the end of the world? How?
JD: I think technology puts these people together and the play touches on the randomness of events-and Craigslist is very random-and when they are together they don't really get along to well, do they? Until the very end, when they make a decision-they find a common ground. So, I don't know so much if its technology that drives the play because our main characters, they are removed. In fact, you need power to use this technology and they don't have any of that. They're struggling to generate electricity, and the technology that's being used then is, the way we put it, very 50s. We have a lot of pull down charts to describe things like the Halliburton Shale Deposits that the government gave that all these big anchors and athletes panned-all the people the government deemed worthy to survive the boom, right. Then, Barbara obviously controls by the push of a button, a twist of a lever, or the turn of a knob the outcome. At one point, we have her leaving the room-we sort of took some liberties with the script that way; it doesn't necessarily say that she has to be in the room-and that's when the play sort of jumps the track, and we see our two main characters maybe exercise a little bit of free will, and the outcome isn't what Barbara expected. And, it results in her termination from her position. And she managed it because obviously things are very controlled.
But technology... We spent a long time in rehearsal discussing how technology does more to keep these people apart. As they evolve, they have less and less contact rather than more and more, and how if one is actually the mother of this, or one of the mothers, of this new race and she doesn't want to have babies because we had the end of the world. Then, Barbara is a product of 65 million years of evolution and she doesn't want to have babies, right, because it's too disgusting. How do people have babies then? And Barbara goes into this, initially it seems very tangential, monologue about how she was conceived. And, what we've put behind it is that people don't really [Pauses] they don't have sex anymore-people are grown in tubes-and there's very little physical contact, and this now is our own back-story that we may be imposing upon this, but that's how we sort of justify Barbara stopping the play and going about things on her own. So, that's technology.
What about science?
JD: Science... I'll let somebody else answer because I'm probably monopolizing this. (Pauses) Anybody else? Lindsay? Jordan? Aaron? Luna? Science... (All Laugh)
JD: You know, the play takes place in a lab, and our playwright has produced in both theatre and in biology. In reading the play, you see that he has a very strong sense of humor and a very good sense of the theatrical, but he also doesn't make any outwardly false claims about the biological either. There are conjectures, but everything he presents could, could happen if everything lined up correctly. And, biology has never been so sexy as it is in this play.
Is there anything else you guys want to say about science or technology?
JD: Aaron Garret actually, as the other assistant director on this play, has some interesting notions on how this play and what it all means has a very strong Science Fiction background, and I'd like him to talk a little about that.
Aaron Garret (AG): Well, from the standpoint that we've taken where humanity or whatever Barbara and the people like Barbara are the way they have changed actually contradicts a lot of conventional Science Fiction tropes. It's interesting to see a different path taken because in a lot of Science Fiction you'll have sex played up more than you have in this show. In fact, the playwright seems to be doing everything he can to keep every character apart from one another, which is an interesting choice.
The apocalypse seems to be used often in comedies lately, what new takes on the apocalypse can audiences expect in BOOM?
JJ: I think one thing that is going to be really fun about our production is the theatre that we have. Except for having been perfect for this play, the theatre itself is actually called Wildfish Theatre. It's right next to a tackle shop. The theatre is basically in a basement, so you have to walk down the steps and kind of get into this cramped space and you're basically in there with Jules and Jo. So, I think that, as an overall experience, it's going to really fun. But then specifically with this play...
JD: Our play is actually funny.
JJ: (Talking over other's laughter) Yeah, it's really funny.
JD: Right. It's witty. (Pauses) I know this play has been produced a lot. TCG [Theatre Communications Group] says its one of the most produced plays out there. Also, these folks that are working on this are coming from a long lineage of Houston royalty and are actually super funny. (Looking at Aaron Garret) Yes, Aaron?
AG: Go ahead.
JD: No, you're clear. Please, say something.
AG: I was going to say that BOOM is actually in an interesting position because in a lot of the apocalyptic comedies that you've mentioned, they will either take a very defeatist standpoint where the apocalypse is certain and the only way the characters can find any peace within themselves is just to accept their situation and make best what they have, or the apocalyptic comedy will go the route of saying that the apocalypse won't actually happen and our protagonist will somehow defeat it in the end. BOOM does both, I think, very successfully in that the apocalypse is treated as a very serious event that is impossible to escape from but even within the entire calamity there is hope for a future later on, even if our characters cannot necessarily partake in it directly.
LO: And I think you can go as far as to say that it shows that nature has a way of fixing itself in a certain way. And that's very relevant, not, maybe not to the bawdy apocalyptic standpoint of view but to the issue of global warming that we're facing right now and how that might one day extinguish us but not another species. And, it goes along a whole lot with the play.
JD: Our's is a little bit different because we're playing against the type in our sound design and what we're looking for. If you go to a play that is titled BOOM, you expect that to happen probably at some point over the course of the evening, and we have a little bit of a twist on that, and I think I'll leave it there and encourage you to actually come down and see it. Then, you'll see what we're talking about.
Without giving too much away, what is Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's take home message for the audience?
JJ: When I think of this play, it kind of reminds me of a line from JURASSIC PARK. Jeff Goldblum's, "Life finds a way." I think that's kind of what I take from the end and that no matter the odds or the obstacles, that whatever circumstances we're thrown into we live on a planet with resilient creatures and life will somehow go on.
JD: Although, I have to tell you that these are the two worst people in the world to repopulate the planet. You could not have the odds stacked higher against you.
Does anybody else want to weigh in on the message or messages?
Lindsay Ehrhardt (LE): I mean it's always the context that the end of the world is not actually the end of the world. Like, the worst thing can happen and you can still get through it. That's been something that has been true in my own life and it has been interesting to see parallels in this story. Yeah, this huge catastrophic event happened, and you think what will be dismal and hopeless is but isn't at the same time.
The synopsis is definitely attention grabbing, but in one sentence how would you pitch the show to prospective ticket buyers?
JJ: I kind of came up with this, and I threw it into the synopsis, but BOOM is kind of about a hook-up turned evolutionary. I really like that phrase, and once you see the play you'll understand a bit more what that means. I also think another way is like a really, really horrible blind date at the end of the world. Right? (Pauses) Yeah.
JD: Yeah. Absolutely.
JD: Yeah, it's sex that changed the course of the world.
JD: If anyone wants to buy a ticket that would be why.
JD: (Over Luna's Laughter) That's the whole reason why Jo shows up. That's why I'd buy a ticket.
JJ: Yeah. (Pause) So, maybe that's the best one.
After BOOM, what can Houston audiences expect next from Black Lab Theatre?
JJ: Well, we have a very exciting season this year. Next, in January and early February we're doing the regional premiere, after a very successful Off-Broadway run, of a play called THE SUBMISSION. That's a play about a white, gay playwright who is frustrated with and having trouble getting his plays produced, and he writes a play about an African-American family trying to escape from the projects. In an effort to get it produced, he makes up an African-American woman playwright name, and he puts it on the title page and submits it to the Humana Festival. It gets picked, so he is kind of screwed and he has to find an actress to pretend to be the playwright. It's just a sharp, really fun play. It's a play that kind of blurs the lines between comedy and drama, so you have great elements of both in THE SUBMISSION. And it plays on gender and racial relations within the context of theatre, which, for me personally, is also great. I think its very relatable and very interesting.
Then in May of 2013, in collaboration with Asia Society, we'll be presenting the regional and Houston premiere of the Broadway hit CHINGLISH by David Henry Hwang. We are very excited to be working with Asia Society Texas Center, and it's going to be a huge, huge show. When I read the script it was laugh out loud funny, no joke. It's one of the funniest plays I have ever read. It's going to take Houston by storm and it's going to be a great, great play for Houston. And there's a Houston twist at the end, so it's perfect in so many ways. We're really looking forward to that one.
Black Lab Theatre's production of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's BOOM, featuring sex that changes the course of the world, runs from September 14 to 29, 2012 at the Wildfish Theatre. For tickets and more information, including information about THE SUBMISSION and CHINGLISH, please visit http://blacklabtheatre.com/index.html or call (713) 515 - 4028. You can also find Black Lab Theatre on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/BlackLabTheatre) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/blacklabtheatre).
Promotional Poster for Black Lab Theatre's BOOM.
Promotional photo of Black Lab Theatre's production of FARRAGUT NORTH.
Jordan Jaffe as Stephen Bellamy in Black Lab Theatre's production of FARRAGUT NORTH.
Headshot of Jordan Jaffe.