Review: BOOM X at Streetcar Crowsnest

A blast from the past with a personal twist

By: May. 22, 2023
Review: BOOM X at Streetcar Crowsnest
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I missed Generation X by a single year.

Born at the end of 1984, I'm a "geriatric millennial," only able to admire the sarcastic, too-cool-for-school slacker aesthetic of my slightly older peers from beyond the confines of artificial generational divides as I toil away at my side hustle.

Rick Miller's BOOM X, produced by Kidoons and WYRD Productions in association with Crow's Theatre, Theatre Calgary, and The 20K Collective, is the middle entry in a trilogy sandwiched by BOOM (his parents, the Baby Boomers' story) and BOOM YZ (his daughter's). Miller's frenetic embodiment of as many memorable figures of the era as possible is a love letter to the wider cultural world in which he grew up, a young Montrealer enchanted by the Expos. While neither the baseball team nor the world he presents still exists in its original form, Miller celebrates both in show devoted to exploring both a game and era devoted to trying and failing, with the overall Beckettian mantra of "Fail Better."

Miller says that Boom X isn't designed to be a "nostalgia-fest," but that's not strictly true. Indeed, it would be very difficult to have the show work without the element of nostalgia, as part of the point is to re-experience (or vicariously experience, depending on your age) the highlights and lowlights of 1969-1995, with the decades' associated music, pop culture, and historical events almost calling out "remember when?" There's even trivia during intermission to test your memory, somewhat akin to the kind of facts that flash on screen before movie theatre previews.

That said, though, nostalgia in a show like this is a good thing. It's genuinely impressive and engaging to see Miller move through the 100-odd figures that make up his version of Generation X with his chameleonic versatility, as if Billy Joel had written a version of "We Didn't Start The Fire" that lasted almost two hours. He's assisted by a set of screens that show us clips from the past while he slips into his vocal and physical recreations of the people involved.

Everything is well edited to let him do the hard work of becoming the character, if only for a few moments, with nothing but a costume piece, a prop such as a guitar, and a change in his bearing. He switches up his performances in front of the screens with small sections where he goes behind the triangle of projections and speaks his thoughts directly to the camera in a rough-edged, artsy aesthetic that echoes Douglas Coupland's generation-defining book.

What makes the show work outside of its nostalgic quality is the appealing nature of Miller's story woven throughout, giving these larger, more nebulous events somewhere to land. We see how Miller was affected by the cultural and historical milestones of his time, and even how geopolitical currents connected him with the four friends and family members whose interviews he uses to flesh out the story. Part of the charm is getting introduced to these four disparate-seeming, interesting people, and then figuring out how they fit together as their stories become clear.

In fact, some of their stories are so interesting that these sections could have been expanded to provide an further satisfying experience, even at the expense of one of the sacred 100 characters (we can all watch "Best of the 80s" on CNN at the end of December, though Miller's rendition is highly entertaining). There's a beautiful heart here, enfolded by a great gimmick, but sometimes they seem at war with each other.

That feeling is compounded because, throughout the show, Miller reminds us that he's aware that his worldview of history is somewhat limited, as a cishet white man, and it also becomes clear that he's brought in these friends and relatives to somewhat ameliorate that gap. Additional focus on these stories would also lessen that facet of their presence in the story.

When it comes to pace and showmanship, though, Miller scores; the timing of the whole complicated endeavour is lightning-quick and polished, and you might sometimes even forget what a great deal of work it all is, because he makes it look easy. It's a genuinely fun, breezy home run through a time that was anything but.

In fact, you might say that if you're looking for a good time at the theatre, X marks the spot.


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