Driving home one evening, i was listening to an interview with a psychologist who said that post 9/11, “many people feel in a constant state of emergency.” Which may explain the plethora of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic art being made; this being particularly evident in film, TV and theater.
Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s “boom” premiered in 2008, and it breaks no new ground in what can now officially be called the “End of the World” genre, but as staged by the Theater for the New South at the Rivoli Art Mill, it has enough now-I-get-it laughs, enough quirky charm and just enough thought provocation to steer it from sitcom to play.
The Rivoli Art Mill’s exposed walls and funky fluorescent lights don’t need much help to evoke the basement. An officious woman in a suit bustles into the room and up the stairs to some Rube Goldberg-esque machinery. (We quickly learn that behind this lurks a lot of percussion instruments as well.) The two people seated on the couch in the room below begin a conversation—and it’s clear from the beginning that they have different agendas. “Take off your shirt,” orders the young woman, while the young man, clearly flustered, dithers.
She’s been lured to this rather dismal basement by the online promise of stellar sex—but she quickly learns that her pseudo-seducer is a) gay, b) a big nerd and c) convinced the end of the world is going to happen in about 15 minutes. Unfortunately for her, the end of the world—at least outside the duct-tape-reinforced basement—does happen in about 15 minutes, so Jo, the would-be journalist (Katelynd Frierson) and Jules (Matt Johnson) are literally stuck with each other.
Or at least they’re stuck with each other in this recreation of their dilemma, taking place eons in the future, and presided over by the woman in the suit, Barbara (Karen Henderson), who also has her own agenda.
Director Blake Harris has once again assembled an excellent cast, and keeps the pace skipping along in the 80-minute intermission-less piece, allowing us to focus on the characters and the comic timing. Frierson’s Jo is a fun riff on the rudderless, oh-so-cynical college student, and she does even better when we finally get a whiff of more substance. At one point, she announces that this is “escape attempt 3,204” and by that point, we can sympathize with her determination to get away from Johnson’s Jules, who would drive anyone mad in his misguided attempts to reboot the human race.
Johnson has a bit of a time evading inevitable comparison with a certain science-nerd sitcom character, but to his credit, makes Jules his own, more complex person than we expect in the beginning.
Could be a generational thing, but my favorite performance was Henderson’s Barbara. Her odd gestures “completing” sentences, her extended aria about her own conception and the real concern that keeps inserting itself into her character’s persona make for an actor’s trifecta, and Henderson takes full advantage of it. “Let’s just linger in this moment before reality rushes in and drowns us,” she proclaims.
Not a bad recommendation for the production itself, actually. Feel free to linger with a good piece of theater—just in case everything really is about to go boom.
$10 • 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8-11
Rivoli Art Mill
2301 E. 28th St.