In WRT’s ‘boom,’ an uncertain future for humanity
WELLESLEY – The last two people on earth is a well-traveled and oft-visited theme.
For some time now, Armageddon has seemingly lurked around the corner waiting to jump back into the fray, be it in print, TV, film or on stage. Of course, the original treatment of the only two people on earth is that of Adam and Eden in the Garden of Eden in the chapter of Genesis in The Bible.
But playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s 2008 play “boom,” now being performed by Wellesley Repertory Theatre at the Ruth Nagel Jones Theater and the most produced play in the country in 2010, is an original, interesting end-of-the-world dramatic comedy with a delicious plot twist about the origins of humanity the end that you likely won’t see coming.
This setting is a subterranean university research lab on a college campus that also happens to be an exhibit, a single room where two people will meet for the first time after she answers his Craigslist ad, which promises “sex to change the course of the world.”
The lab belongs to Jules (Nicholas Yenson), a marine biologist, who has read the tea leaves after doing extensive research on tropical fish, and what he has discovered is that the species are acting as if the end of the world is coming. After doing the calculations, he concurs, using duct tape and other precautions to turn his lab into a living space to survive Armageddon He has stocked the lab’s back room with supplies and made sure and his beloved fish tank will also survive the oncoming comet.
Into the lab – lured by the ad — stumbles Jo, a 22-year-old journalist who as a person is all over the place and has a habit of losing consciousness at key moments. Wellesley College senior Chloe Nosan is a bit tentative and understated at first but she eventually warms to the task of being half of a relationship that appears on its face to be a delicious mismatch. She is looking for a fast, easy hook-up; he wants to restart the human species.
When the entire world goes “boom” after the arrival of the comet, the entire future of the human race depends on Jules, who is gay, and Jo, who hates babies.
With both Jules and Jo being rather simplistic cartoon characters at that point, Nacktrieb does provided some background to the characters: Jules family has been wiped out one by one under, at times ,hilarious circumstances, while Jo ‘s decision to answer Jules’ ad is part of a class journalism project that advocates random sex as the last hope in a decaying society.
And while Nosan’s Jo is still finding her feet, Yenson as Jules is a bit over the top much of the way, too hyper and manic by half in the 85-minute piece performed without an intermission.
The accomplished actress Stephanie Clayman looms offstage as Barbara, ostensibly a museum curator of some sort, in her uniform complete with name tag, pulling levers like an off-stage Wizard of Oz to animate Jules and Jo.
She also operates a lighting board, and percussion instruments she occasionally employs during dramatic moments in the presentation.
Breaking down the fourth wall, the oft-frustrated Barbara explains to us that we are actually watching an exhibit, a story that may or may not actually happened the way it is being portrayed. She is also not above describing in detail her own conception. It’s a difficult role but Clayman finds both the humor and humanity of it.
Of course, in her rearranging of events in the universe, she may be pulling the ultimate lever of power.
Production manager and set designer David Towlun has crafted a self-contained 21st Century lab that doubles as a living area.
In her dramaturgy in the program, Wellesley Rep Artistic Director Marta Rainer, who also directed this production, focused on the human rather than the scientific aspects of the piece and how we all fit in. “What ‘boom’ ultimately reminds us is that through our responsibility to each other, our commitment to liberty, and our passion for connection, we can each make a difference on this, our shared globe.”
Where “boom” really hits the mark is in Nachtrieb’s poignant handling of Jules and Jo and the ingenuity involved in portraying how the human species ultimately begins the long road back.
The Wellesley Repertory Theatre production of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s ‘boom.” Directed by Marta Rainer. Production manager and set design: David Towlun. Lighting Emily Bearce/Graham Edmondson. Sound: George Cooke. Costumes: Chelsea Kerl. At the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre through Feb. 9. Wellesleyrep.org