Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s 2008 play “boom” is billed as a comedy – a dark, surreal comedy about the end of the world – yet a comedy nonetheless. Dawn Taylor Reinhardt, who is directing the Interplayers Theatre production, agrees. To a point.
“There are humorous situations that are just hilarious,” she said. “But it is equally profound.”
Yes, because this comedy deals with the heavy concept of the end of the world, and the even-heavier concept of the beginning of the world.
It’s about a young marine biology grad student who has retreated to a basement bunker because he thinks he has detected evidence that a comet will soon hit Earth. He lures a young female student journalist down into the basement because – well, because if the earth does end with a boom, somebody has to get to work on repopulation.
Ben Brantley of the New York Times, in his review of the New York production, said it might seem, at first, like an “apocalypse-lite” version of a meet-cute comedy, or a “Twilight Zone” episode, re-written as a sit-com.
However, the play takes some wild twists, which can’t be given away here.
“But it winds up speaking, quietly and piquantly, to our enduring fascination with and need for myths about the beginning of life as well as its end,” Brantley said. “(Nachtrieb) has a gift for darkly funny dialogue and an appealing way of approaching big themes sideways.”
Sideways is the operative word. Nachtrieb, the playwright in residence at Z Space in San Francisco, gives the audience a great deal of leeway to interpret the story in different ways. When the Seattle Repertory Theatre staged “boom” in 2008, Seattle Times critic Misha Berson said that Nachtrieb “has a rare ability to keep you laughing and guessing, guessing and laughing over 90 minutes.”
The director and cast at Interplayers have been working on what amounts to an intellectual and artistic puzzle for weeks.
“It is truly exhilarating, because even now, we are still finding new things,” Reinhardt said. “It’s been an exciting journey for us.”
It’s also what made Reinhardt snap up this play as soon as she read the script.
“This one just screamed at me,” she said. “I enjoy working on things that are a little unorthodox, a little different than ‘slice of life.’ ”
Well, this is no slice of life. For instance, the play’s third character, Barbara, played by Tamara Schupman, defies easy description. For instance, she plays two tympani, live, onstage. Yes, we mean, kettledrums.
“The drums are like another character,” Reinhardt said.
Ken Urso plays the scientist and Sofie Spilman plays the journalist. The play takes place mostly in the scientist’s basement – except when it doesn’t.
If you want to delve more deeply into the play’s puzzles, Reinhardt recommends that you attend one of the talkback sessions with cast and crew, scheduled after the shows on Wednesday and again on Feb. 3 and 7. “They’re going to want to talk about this piece,” Reinhardt said. “I’m just so excited for the audience to ask questions.”
Yet do all of the questions have obvious answers? There’s the “boom”-ing question.