Love at the end of the world
Sacramento, CA 95814
The late Kurt Vonnegut, in his 1963 novel Cat’s Cradle, featured a recipe for a cocktail called “The End of the World Delight.” It’s mixed on the day the Americans bomb Hiroshima, and consists of a crème de menthe in a hollow pineapple, with whipped cream and a cherry on top. Difficult to drink, but the description still prompts laughter.
That cocktail came to mind while watching the B Street Theatre’s production of Boom, which is a satirical battle-of-the-sexes-at-the-end-of-the-world comedy. It’s a feisty mix of pop-science and easy-access philosophy, absurd situations (with detours), gallows humor and combative romance—punctuated by blasts from an onstage kettle drum—and it owes something to Vonnegut. Like much of Vonnegut’s work, Boom even has a sweet silver lining.
The story involves Jules, a nerdy marine biologist (portly Peter Story, a B Street regular), who’s brought home a first date named Jo (Sarah Aili, playing a tough cookie). They met through a “man seeking woman” ad, like those in the back of SN&R. The comedy initially rises from the immediacy with which she cuts to the chase, i.e., sex.
Standing in what looks like an offstage control room is a woman with an elevated hairdo wearing an odd blue outfit (B Street regular Jamie Jones) who’s seemingly managing the scene between Jules and Jo. The blue-clad lady pulls big electrical levers (looking like leftovers from Bride of Frankenstein), manipulating the couple as they put the moves on each other.
We gradually learn more. The control-room lady—Barbara—has a purpose behind her role as Mistress of Ceremonies, but we won’t spoil the fun by disclosing details.
Jo is a journalism student (deck chairs on the Titanic, honey!); she’s on the date for a writing assignment. But the primary agenda comes from Jules. He’s figured out that a large comet is about to whack Earth (never mind that he’s a marine biologist, not an astronomer), which will trigger a catastrophe like the one that killed off the dinosaurs. So Jules has burrowed himself away in a laboratory/apartment that was once a bomb shelter, which he’s outfitted with survival supplies. Being a scientific type with no social or romantic skills, he ran the relationship ad to lure a female—so what if she’s a stranger?—to his bunker, with the goal of repopulating the devastated planet.
Consciously or not, playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb is spoofing a subgenre of post-apocalypse science fiction from the ’50s/’60s (seldom read now) as well as contemporary apocalypto-disaster films, all the while running a burlesque of The Taming of the Shrew and taking jabs at lofty science and contemporary life, including Costco. The play comes on with an unconventional structure—something of a treat after an abundance of largely straightforward comedies on the B Street Mainstage—but Boom is actually closer to the mainstream than it initially appears.