'Boom' lives up to its name

Posted: Thursday, March 11, 2010

Perseverance's "Boom," written by Peter Sinn Nachtreib, certainly lives up to its name.

I sat down in the theater and saw a set that was dull and old, an underground shelter, and, knowing that the play's scenario was about the end of the world, I sighed, thinking I might be in for a depressing evening. Then, boom! The set came alive with surprises, fun props, lights and whistles. Perseverance art director Art Rotch has created another scenic masterpiece. Extreme forethought and insight went into every detail of his design.

The beginning of the play had me worried again. It was a little awkward, and seemed to be heading toward a series of long, dull conversations about the meaning of life between two lone characters. But then, boom. Both actors kicked into gear and so did the witty and lively dialog.

The script, written by Nachtreib, at first seemingly sparse, crude, and confusing, blooms into a wonderful multi-level piece of literature, unfolding its symbolism and a heartfelt commentary about the virility of life.

In the play, a scientist studies fish in a tank to foresee the destruction of the planet by a comet. However, as the play continues, the scientist and his intended mate seem to be the "fish" in a tank of their own, watched by us, the audience, supposedly museum patrons being guided by Barbara, the museum worker.

Nachtreib's dialog is vibrant and pithy, and full of sweet surprises. And Shona Strauser's delivery of Barbara's lines is mesmerizing and enchanting. At first, her tendency to interrupt and steal the focus from the main scene was beginning to make me gnash my teeth, but then she stepped out of her mechanical hovel, delivered a wonderful monolog, and became the most endearing character in the whole play. She made me laugh heartily, and by the end, moved me to tears, immersing herself in her role with total abandon.

In addition to Strauser's mastery of her character, the playwright's genius is in subtly and sneakily developing Barbara into the key figure in the play. She went from a one-dimensional narrator holding up cards and pushing gears at the beginning to a deeply three-dimensional main character at the end, delivering all the vital and important moments of the play through expertly delivered monologs.

Another huge bright spot is Brandon Demery, who plays Jules, a scientist trying to preserve human life in the underground shelter by trying to impregnate the only woman left on the planet. I have seen Demery in several productions, and each time I've seen him, he has played the same type of character; I wondered if that was the extent of his acting ability. But Demery transforms into a totally different person in "Boom." His skills as an actor are natural and powerful. And he remained true to the character of Jules through every moment of the play - Demery disappeared and Jules was present onstage the entire time. And I liked Jules very much, which is vital in a play with only three characters.

However, I had trouble with Doneice Gott's portrayal of Jo. She was too harsh in the beginning and I never did like her, though her harshness in the second half makes more sense. Gott's Jo transforms during the play into a crazed, paranoid lunatic and I liked that aspect of her character more. I only wish she could have presented Jo's true heart and soul better in the beginning. I saw no depths or intervals with Gott's Jo, only a mad, mean woman.

Another thing that was a weakness for me was the language of the play. Strong language, when it is vital for meaning, has a place in theater; however, too many times the crude language interrupts the intimate and important moments building in the scene. For example, when Jo says the same word and phrase over and over, it is awkward and isn't natural for the dialog or the character. A lot of the language and some of the subject matter keep the play from being suitable for all audiences.

Overall though, the play is simply delightful, and my favorite that I have seen at Perseverance since I moved here. See for yourself this weekend. "Boom" plays until March 21.

• Michaela Moore, theater director Juneau Douglas High School, can be reached at michaela_moore@jsd.k12.ak.us

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