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Dealing With Doomsday

It's difficult to explain exactly what's happening with Winding Road's Boom, but you'll want to see it for yourself

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Why would a gay marine biologist—a virgin, in fact—put a personals ad on Craigslist asking for a woman willing to engage in "intensely significant coupling"?

We'll get to that, but first let me tell you about the cynical young woman who shows up for this doozy of a blind date. Her name is Jo (Dani Dryer), and she's ready for that coupling to commence the minute she arrives in the former bomb shelter that Jules (Evan Werner) calls home.

"Take your pants off," she commands as he prattles on about spanakopita and frightened fish and the series of unfortunate events that killed everybody in his immediate family.

She's aggressive, but her moves are forced and clearly not working. And if she's so experienced, why can't she tell that her host—now quivering in his boxers—is homosexual? Our gaydar has been going off like an air raid siren, but the news is a bombshell to Ms. Been There Done That.

Yep, she's a virgin, too.

The mysteries pile up early and often in Boom, a play that could be called a quirky doomsday comedy except it's so much more than that. This expansive 80-minute, three-character stunner by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb has more meat on its bones, more meaningful codes hiding in its DNA, than a mere synopsis can convey.

Turns out that Jules meant exactly what he said when he went fishing online for "intensely significant coupling." If his calculations are correct, a comet will hit the Earth right about NOW and cause catastrophic damage to the human race and most other life forms. We're talking mass extinction, people.

But Jules, whose life has been less than meaningful up to now, has a plan to re-populate the planet from his underground bunker. Not for nothing is one of the cupboards stocked with tampons and disposable diapers.

He's been prepping for this doomsday for many years, curling up with his data night after night and unleashing his beautiful mind to scribble on the walls. Sure, the whole gay thing will make fertilization of the female a bit more challenging, but where there's a will, there's a way—or at least a turkey baster.

Jo, though, is in no mood to be the incubator and original mother of the next wave of humankind. She doesn't even like babies. Besides, she says, she's defective. She passes out whenever danger is imminent. Even her parents used her as a canary in a coal mine, sending her into places to see if they were safe.

If this scenario sounds like a florid sitcom with Cormac McCarthy pretensions, then I haven't done it justice. Boom is uproarious and exceptionally light on its feet, but it's the furthest thing from empty-headed laugh mongering.

The playwright's pièce de résistance is a stressed-out piece of work named Barbara (Avis Judd), the third person in this soon to be post-apocalyptic story.

She sits over to the left, smiling as if her life depended on it, pulling levers and pushing buttons and interrupting the action now and then for some odd color commentary. Figuring out her deal is half the fun and when the desperate plight of her situation sinks in, well, you sort of want to cry.

The Tucson premiere of Boom is presented by Winding Road Theater Ensemble, the increasingly essential troupe that most recently gave us a killer Cabaret. It's running in repertory with another Tucson premiere, Rajiv Joseph's Gruesome Playground Injuries, which will be reviewed in next week's issue of the Weekly.

Christopher Johnson, who played the emcee in Cabaret, is the director here and his unerring work wrings every bit of humor and pathos from what's on the page. In Johnson's hands, Boom has incredible forward momentum.

His casting is genius, that's for sure. Werner, Dyer and Judd sink their teeth into this remarkable play with precision, power and intelligence. They get all of the little things right on their way to the big myth-making stuff. The ending, a wondrous bit of alchemy, sneaks up on you and hits you where it counts.

The production, which benefits from a detailed production design that never gets in the way, tells a hell of a story about the importance of storytelling. Winding Road, which closes its season with Lanford Wilson's Burn This in March, was wise to make room for Boom.

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