Theater Review: ‘Boom’ at The Gamm
Thursday, March 15, 2012
This is just one of many pleasures in Boom, a new play about the origins of life set in the cluttered basement lab of a college campus. The play is about the end (and beginning) of the world, and this production at The Gamm Theater ignites playwright’s Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s smart take on our murky origins as well as behaviors with a bang just big enough to honor the intelligence and fun of the exercise.
Sex to change the course of the world
One of the best bits of fun in Boom is enjoying Nachtrieb’s movement up and down several layers of story-telling and meaning. The play appears to be set in a college lab, and the action appears to open with nerdy marine biology grad student Jules (Marc Dante Mancini) meeting Jo (Gillian Williams), a cynical journalism major who has responded to Jules’ personal ad seeking a partner for “sex to change the course of the world.” But just adjacent to that lab, a cheerfully docent-esque Barbara (Wendy Overly) invades the action sporadically from her wingback chair with commentary and interventions (including throwing a large electrical switch that can freeze the action or drop Jo to her knees). Barbara welcomes us to an “exhibit” that she tells us she manages--this set populated by Jules and Jo. And so part of the fun begins: are Jules and Jo really Jules and Jo? Or are they actors within actors, recreating events in a weird post-modern museum? Is Barbara divine? Or chaos itself?
This framework could feel too ironic, or too heavy, but it’s neither. Credit is due in equal measure to the playwright, who has kept his dialogue just light enough to glance off the bigger implications like a rock skipped across the lake, and a production, tightly paced and expertly blocked by director Fred Sullivan, Jr., that honors the strengths of the dialogue.
Watching the whole thing unfold
Actors inhabiting absurdities
The Gamm’s trio of actors work well together and inhabit Nachtrieb’s absurdities just right. Overly, long a local favorite, wrings every tour-guide tic out of Barbara’s perky expressiveness. There might be even more fun if this Godlike docent showed her vengeful Old Testament side occasionally, but that seasoning might come with time in this production. Mancini and Williams have good chemistry, although Williams could do with a bit more nuance--her Jo yells too much. Mancini as Jules has the right balance of sweetness and lunacy to play a prescient geek, although the actor’s heavily tattooed torso felt more arts than sciences.
Overall, Nachtrieb (who studied biology along with theater as an undergraduate at Brown) has maintained a lovely humility at the grand intersection of science and religion, and this is what makes Boom ultimately so successful. Unlike plays such as Michael Frayn’s Cophenhagen or even Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, Boom does not reach as ambitiously for answering our very large questions. It is a play that sets and then capitalizes on its limitations: to be a sharp, entertaining few hours of enjoying the utter confusion of the universe.
Are we here by accident or design? Who pulls the levers, and what happens when chance enters the picture? And who is watching whom? These are the beguiling questions illuminating this funny play, and the one answer that any student at The Gamm this season should know, is that attendance is mandatory.
Boom, through April 8, at The Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange St, Pawtucket. 401-723-4266. www.gammtheatre.org
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