Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review: Captial T Theatre's BOOM @ HPT

Taking in BOOM, which is being staged by Capital T Theatre at Hyde Park Theatre, brought up all sorts of seemingly disjointed associations, including: the creepy novel Room (hey, that rhymes with BOOM); Sartre’s No Exit, The LBJ Museum (specifically the animatron of the man himself), Genesis (the book in the bible, not the Phil Collins/Peter Gabrial thing) and these lyrics from Ani DiFranco’s song Little Plastic Castles

They say goldfish have no memory
I guess their lives are much like mine
And the little plastic castle
Is a surprise every time
And it's hard to say if they're happy
But they don't seem much to mind

Are those enough clues for me to convey to you, without spoilers, that what we have in BOOM is a piece involving human beings (and other creatures) trapped in small spaces? There’s a Matryoshka doll effect happening here which, if I give you the details, is going to ruin playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s surprises. So let me try to surrender a bit here, without giving too much away.

BOOM opens with Barbara, played wonderfully (natch) by Katherine Catmull. Barbara is wearing a vaguely Star-Trekky ensemble and as she takes her place, stage right, behind a bar with multiple levers we can’t tell at first if she’s operating a soft-serve business, a spaceship, or a soda fountain.

As we cut to an entirely different scene, center stage, Barbara continues to hold her place, observing and, at certain points appearing to control that other scene, though we aren’t quite sure how, not at first. In this other scene, Jules (Brad Price) and Jo (Katy Taylor) are the definition of mismatched pair. They have found each other, as so many do, via an online ad that he created and she misinterpreted. But what at first appears like a very bad date, eventually reveals itself to be something much greater. These two, at least in Jules’s mind, have the power, in the face of imminent disaster, to save the planet. Or not— not if Jo gets a vote.

If you’re scratching your head, don’t shoot the messenger. I was scratching my head, too, trying to piece things together, feeling entertained if a little confused during the first half as Jules and Jo banter and bicker and wrestle physically and verbally for control. But clarity comes in the second half of BOOM, and I have to say that I liked the writing more and more as we moved along. In fact, the strength of the second half totally saves the first half from being just another spin on just another comic take on No Exit.

What really lifts the show to its greatest height are the revelations and asides provided at intervals by Barbara. Catmull plays Barbara as an emoticon personified—sometimes smiley, sometimes winky, sometimes scowly. She even comes equipped with metaphoric multiple exclamation points in the form of her very own timpani, which she plays if not with finesse then certainly with maximum enthusiasm and effect. Barbara is the one who, in the end, provides the revelatory payoff, and it’s a very funny one.

Barbara isn’t merely some dolled up voiceover narrator present to move the story along, though. Getting back to the Matryoshka thing—we come to see how her existence reflects the existence of Jo and Jules and the fish they keep. Are we all just trapped in our little inescapable environments, desperate to control something/anything? And are we all doomed to fail in our efforts, thwarted by emotions, helplessness, and the actual lack of control that life really is?

In the hands of director Mark Pickell, BOOM is a lovely vehicle to take driving across this landmine-riddled terrain of philosophical pondering. Never too heavy, it’s a silly but thoughtful romp through those classic literary conflicts—man vs. himself, man vs. nature, man vs. man (or in this case, woman), and man vs. society (what little remains of it).
Capital T Theatre’s production of BOOM plays through Saturday, June 23rd at Hyde Park Theatre. Ticket info here

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