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by Randy Rice
Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s clever little comedy Boom had its original workshop production at Brown/Trinity Playwrights Rep during the summer of 2007. The Gamm’s production is directed by Fred Sullivan, Jr. and runs through April 8, 2012.
Nachtrieb intentionally muddies the time, place and setting. There is a certain tension, not dissimilar from a poker game, as the audience searches for “tells” that will give us a clue as to what is happening.
What we come to understand is that the world is coming to an end for Barbara (Wendy Overly), an over-achieving docent who has been caretaking a post-apocalyptic exhibit, complete with animatronics that are indistinguishable from real humans. With attendance dwindling and grant funding drying up, the museum’s management will dismantle the exhibit after today’s viewing. Barbara has put her heart and soul into the exhibit for years, creating study guides and glossaries - all unsolicited by management and likely unwanted.
The exhibit opens with Jules (Marc Dante Mancini), a young, inexperienced and excitable biologist, opening the door for Jo (Gillian Williams) who responded to his craigslist ad seeking a woman for “kissing, body contact, oral sex, and intensely significant coupling”.
Jo, a neurotic journalism student, responded the ad to gain life some life experience and to give herself something “uplifting” to write about; fulfilling her current class assignment. Jo becomes, understandably, unnerved when she learns that Jules has brought her to his subterranean lab so that she will survive what he believes is an impending catastrophic event that will wipe out human life. Together, he calmly explains to her, they can re-populate the human race; the Adam and Eve of their time. Intensely significant coupling, indeed.
Mancini and Williams each give rich comic performances - and their anti-chemistry is quite finely delivered. Sullivan’s direction of these two actors is spot-on and the audience will be able to identify his directorial hand. Sullivan has a defined signature comic style - and that is a good thing.
Wendy Overly is a hoot as Barbara, the over-achieving docent. Whether interacting with the audience, inappropriately stopping the exhibit, or bad-mouthing management; hers is an over-the-top role and Overly nails it. Barbara is the only really likable character on stage, and Overly imbues the character with an endearing desperation. Making “desperation” “endearing” requires enormous skill. Not many actors can pull it off this well.
The set design, by Patrick Lynch, goes above and beyond the expected - with great success and it integrates seamlessly with Matthew Terry’s tight lighting design.
The play-within-a-play structure of the work is exciting, as Nachtiebs has a unique take on the genre. It is, as often, a deficit as it is used too often, with twists and turns that become gimmicky.
Boom plays at the The Gamm Theatre through Aril 8, 2012. Tickets range from $34 to $42 and can be purchased by phone at 401-723-4266, at the Box Office, located at 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket, RI, or online at www.gammtheatre.org.