Do you ever get the feeling that somebody else is controlling your life, and that person is probably a gum-chewing 13-year-old with a mean streak and a short attention span? How else can we explain the shit we have to deal with on a daily basis?
That is just one of the many cosmic questions addressed in the not-to-be-missed boom, now at Cleveland Public Theatre. As written by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, this 90-minute excursion to the end of the world and beyond is so fiercely funny, while being simultaneously brainy, that it keeps you nailed to your seat - laughing and shaking your head in wonderment.
It all begins innocently enough as Jo shows up for a Craig's List-arranged date with marine biologist Jules in his sterile lab that's outfitted with sleeping quarters. This is fine with Jo, since she's hornier than a rutting rhino. But it turns out that Jules is gay and that the "world-changing sex" he promised is less erotic than evolutionary.
You see, on a recent research trip to a godforsaken island, Jules noticed that some exotic fish were acting weird, as if an ominous cataclysm was coming (think comet, as in the immense, dinosaur-obliterating kind). So Jules came back to civilization and announced his findings, which quickly made him an outcast among his peers. But he forged ahead, preparing his lab/bunker with survival supplies and posting an ad for someone he could selflessly (and not very enjoyably) repopulate the species with, once the comet hit.
All this backstory is presented through sharp, incisively witty dialogue between Jo and Jules that has many thrown-away jokes (like Jules' note that his mom died after "going on a tour of un-reinforced masonry in California."). Foul-mouthed Jo, a college journalism student, is furious about being trapped in the lab and tries to escape, but she unaccountably drops to the floor, unconscious, at odd times.
All this is explained when Barbara, who occupies a separate platform equipped with levers, chains and dials, enters the fray as the operator of the Jules and Jo exhibit. As she reveals her role in the proceedings, the layers of "human" existence and all attendant metaphors multiply exponentially.
None of this is confounding since playwright Nachtrieb masterfully balances absurdity and profundity in a way that always feels completely accessible, even when the subject matter verges on the biologically and philosophically arcane.
The script is helped immeasurably by a splendid production directed with absolute assurance by Beth Wood. And it would be hard to imagine a better cast. Douglas H. Snyder as Jules is every inch the closeted nerd, trying to manipulate the feisty Jo as he proceeds with his scheme to save the world, or at least some of his representative chromosomes. And Laurel Johnson's Jo is a hot-wired flash of outrage as she battles to understand why she is alive, in this place, with this person.
Keeping pace with those two wonderful performances, Kelly Elliott makes Barbara an endearing presence, which is odd considering she's the one in control. Finishing many of her sentences with gestures instead of words without any loss of meaning, Elliott shows how even the person holding the lever is a puppet at the end of someone else's strings. Even though slightly overwritten and preachy towards the end, boom is a fast-paced and fascinating mind game.