From the way Jules and Jo “meet cute” in Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Boom, now playing at Pasadena’s Furious Theatre Company, you’d think you were in for the kind of romcom that’s made stars of Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, and Reece Witherspoon, any one of whom could have played Jo at one point in their careers opposite a young Tom Hanks, Billy Crystal, or Mark Ruffalo.

Marine biologist Jules (Nick Cernoch) has advertised on Craigslist for some “kissing, body contact, oral sex, and intensely significant coupling.” Jo (Megan Goodrich) has shown up for their date at Jules’ subterranean lab/domicile raring to go, only to find Jules’ kiss “the worst kiss ever,” his “soggy lips” tasting “like brine.”  Still, as frustrated as Jo may be by Jules’ unresponsiveness to her feminine charms, her disappointment in her would-be suitor is only magnified when he blurts out the real reason for his reluctance to make out with her.  “I’m a homosexual.  I think that’s why I’m having a difficult time.”

Lest you think that Boom is going to be another The Next Best Thing (remember the movie with Madonna and Rupert Everett?), I should mention that a timpani-playing, lever-pulling docent/scientist/stage manager/Supreme Being/? named Barbara (Julia Duffy) has from the get-go been observing the couple from her stage left “control station,” and even, at times, putting her hand in here and there, say whenever Jo attempts to beat a swift retreat only to get(temporarily) struck dead.

Reviews of previous productions of Boom (since its New York World Premiere two years ago, Nachtreib’s “apocalyptic romantic comedy” has become a regional theater favorite) have revealed perhaps more of its plot than advisable. Suffice it to say that Boom has a good deal in common with Thornton Wilder’s The Skin Of Our Teeth’s allegorical look at the history of mankind, albeit with a lot saltier language than Wilder would ever have considered using. Playwright Nachtrieb’s double major (biology and theater) make him the perfect choice to write about fish, Homo sapiens, the beginning and end of the world … and love.

Likewise, Boom’s combination of romance and mayhem make it ideal for the Furious, whose previous productions (An Impending Rupture Of The Belly, Canned Peaches In Syrup, Grace, etc.) have blended romance, violence, comedy and dishevelment under the ingenious, electric direction of Furious Artistic Director Dámaso Rodriguez.  Boom adds one more notch to Rodriguez and The Furious’s much-notched belt.

As Jules, Cernoch is a nerdy delight opposite ball-of-fire Goodchild as Jo, and it’s fun to see the real life Mr. and Mrs. Cernoch play against their natural chemistry in the early, worst-kiss-ever scenes.  As each becomes steadily more disheveled, “battle scarred,” and attracted to each other despite themselves, the couple become quite the unique romcom duo.

Getting seven-time Emmy nominee Duffy to play Barbara is a casting coup for the Furious, but hardly a surprising one, considering the superb work Duffy did under Rodriguez’s direction in the Pasadena Playhouse production of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes.  “Stage Manager” Barbara makes for a perfect match between actress and role, allowing the still ingénuesque Duffy to blend her trademark ditziness with intelligence and gravitas in a comedic tour-de-force.

There’s never been a Furious production that wasn’t a designers’ showcase, and Boom is no exception, beginning with scenic designer Kurt Boetcher’s grungy underground lab with its control station annex full of levers, switches, lights, and an honest-to-goodness kettle drum. Boetcher shares credit with props master Shannon Dedman, who decorates the set with bottles of bourbon, boxes of pampers, and cupboards-full of Kotex. Sound designer/original music composer Doug Newell creates a soundtrack that ups the tension as Duffy pulls levers both literally and figuratively.  (Barbara’s no slouch in the timpani-drumming department either.)  Christie Wright’s lighting dazzles as well, the designer finding ways to illuminate the set entirely with onstage emergency lanterns at various interludes.  Leah Piehl’s costumes are great choices as well.  Kudos go also to fight choreographer Brian Danner, assistant director Courtney Harper, and stage manager Susan K. Coulter.


Already garnering raves equal to those of previous Boom productions across the country, Furious Theatre’s Los Angeles premiere is likely bet to please scientists and laymen, romcom lovers and fringier types as well—all of whom will have much to discuss and mull over on the way home from the show. Boom gets a WOW! No, make that a BOOM!

Furious Theatre Company, Pasadena Playhouse Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena.

–Steven Stanley
May 27, 2010
                                                                       Photos: Anthony Masters

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