Jaye Stellini and Jeffery J. Steger in the Michigan and Canadian premieres of "boom." Photo: Breathe Art Theatre Project

Breathe Art's 'boom' : Apocalypse - now?

By John Quinn

"This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper."

Did playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb have T. S. Eliot in mind when he chose a lower case "boom" for the title of his quirky parable? Is the end of the world as we know it no big deal? Breathe Art Theatre Project helps answer that question and others in staging this tough little nut at The Furniture Factory.

Planetary cataclysm is a tried-and-true theme of science fiction; the standard scene of the "new" Adam and Eve strolling into the sunset hand in hand is old hat. What happens if "Adam and Eve" aren't compatible? Well, sci-fi becomes psy-fi.

Jules (Jeffery J. Steger), a socially challenged grad student in marine biology, lures an unsuspecting journalism student, Jo (Jaye Stellini), to his underground lab. What's the hook? He's placed a Craigslist ad promising "Sex to Change the Course of the World." Ready-for-action, Jo arrives to a situation for which she's unprepared. By studying the sleep habits of tropical fish, Jules has concluded that a "globally catastrophic event" is imminent - as in "When Worlds Collide" imminent. The manic biologist has a plan for the survival of humanity, and Jo is "it!" What does is matter if Jo is not interested in becoming breeding stock?

"boom" has more layers than the proverbial onion. It's a hard play to warm up to, since at the outset it verges on theater of the absurd. We really don't have a handle on what's happening, and the puzzle is deepened by the presence of a third character in our story. A corner of stage left is occupied by the neatly tailored Barbara, whose desk is cluttered with lighting and sound equipment. Barbara, played by Breathe Art's founding artistic partner Courtney Burkett, contributes sound effects and running commentary to the story. With Barbara as our guide to onion peeling, things begin making perfect sense. The end justifies the murky beginning. Am I being circumspect? You betcha! Telling more would spoil the fun.

And it IS fun. Director (and Wilde Award winner) Diane Hill handles the production with a sure, deft touch. The actors seem to be having, for the want of a better groaner, a "blast" with these roles. Better still, the characters are believable in the midst of the most improbable situations.

While it's unfortunate that the Furniture Factory's tall, black box stage can swallow a word here and there, it wasn't much of a problem for the audience. Play and performance space mesh nicely.

A tough economy makes for hard times in the arts, and it is comforting to find austerity doesn't mean poor quality.

(After its run at The Furniture Factory, "boom" will move to Mackenzie Hall in Windsor, Ontario for two final performances.)

REVIEW:

'boom'

Breathe Art Theatre Project at The Furniture Factory, 4126 Third St., Detroit. Friday-Saturday through Oct. 16, plus Sunday, Oct. 10 & 17. 248-982-4121. Then at Mackenzie Hall, 3277 Sandwich St., Windsor. Friday-Saturday, Oct. 22-23. 519-255-7600. $20. http://www.breathearttheatre.com.

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