For a play about the end of the world as we know it, "Boom" is not only funny but surprisingly hopeful.
The play, by young playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, follows Jules, a marine biology graduate student who has realized that the planet is headed for catastrophe. His plan to save it involves creating an underground hideaway and finding a woman to participate in the continuation of the species.
Trick Danneker, who plays Jules in Harlequin Productions’ version of the play, was drawn to the role by the character’s optimism.
“He’s had a lot of setbacks in his life,” Danneker said. “He’s had a lot of family tragedy. He’s been faced with a lot of death and a lot of people in his life who tell him that he is not able to do what he wants to do, and through it all, he’s had an optimistic outlook.
“He won’t give up even when he’s faced with the most difficult of obstacles,” he added. “I find that really inspiring.”
The most difficult of obstacles being, of course, the possible destruction of the human race.
“The real essence of this play is the tenacity of life,” said director Linda Whitney. “The odds are so against humanity having evolved at all. The planet has spent most of its 4.5 billion years as pretty much a frozen lump, and we are a fairly new arrival in the grand scheme of things. We’re the anomaly. Intelligent life – or what we consider to be intelligent life – is kind of a new concept.”
Jules’s plan – to survive worldwide cataclysm by hiding in a lab converted into a makeshift dwelling and stocked with essentials – seems if anything overly optimistic. Even more given that he’s gay.
“At first glance, ‘Boom’ suggests a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode rewritten as a sitcom,” Peter Brantley wrote in a New York Times review of the play’s New York premiere two years ago. “And it is not without a certain glib whimsy that a marriage of such genres might produce. 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.”
If he’s not yet a household name around here, Nachtrieb, 36, is well-respected, with numerous awards to his credit. The San Francisco playwright was recently given a prestigious grant from the National New Play Network.
Last season, “Boom” was produced by 16 theater companies around the country (including Seattle Repertory Theatre), making it the most produced play other than Shakespeare and holiday shows.
In a 2010 interview for American Theatre magazine, Nachtrieb was modest about the work’s success. “It’s a well-written comedy that has three characters and one set,” he said. “It’s a very producible play. But it’s a pretty weird play, too. It’s crazy that so many people wanted to do it.”
But not as crazy as Jules’s plan to survive the devastation of a comet hitting the earth – an event like one that took out the dinosaurs – by creating an unlikely Eden in a lab. And Jules and Jo are, it appears, animatronics in a museum millions of years in the future, props that aid in a re-creation of history.
“A whole new human race has evolved,” Whitney said. “It’s as if you are at a museum of natural history. A docent is on the second tier of the set at a control panel with levers and lights and her electronic drum set. She is showing us the last moments of the last human creatures on earth in the last epoch.”
Not feeling too optimistic now? Remember, it’s funny.
“It’s hard to explain how funny this play is,” Whitney said. “It’s a very strange funny.”
What: Playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s dark comedy explores topics from Internet hook-ups to the end of the world as we know it.
When: 8 p.m. today and Saturday, March 31-April 2 and April 7-9 and 14-16, and matinees at 2 p.m. Sunday and April 3 and 10, and 3 p.m. April 3
Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
Tickets: $20-$35, rush tickets $12-$15
More information: 360-786-0151 or www.harlequinproductions.org