The aftermath of last week's acrimonious election left me aching for simple human connection, sans hot-button issues. Some seek such solace online, others in a bar; I go to the theater. But whether I tried to escape to a far-off future or the previous century, present-day politics insisted on interjecting themselves. With both of these currently running local productions, I came for the comedy, but stayed for the tragedy.
BOOM at Theater on the Edge, through Dec. 9
Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's BOOM is a pitch-black dramatic sci-fi musical comedy that doesn't merely blend genres – it pulverizes them into fish food.
The play begins like a ribald post-millennial rom-com, with aspiring journalist Jo (Megan Raitano) answering a Craigslist come-on for "no strings attached" sex in an effort to fulfill her college writing assignment. Jules (Adam Minossora), her would-be booty call, is an anxious ichthyologist whose botched attempt at luring lovers into his underground lab would be endearingly icky in a more conventional comedy. But things take a dark turn into Twilight Zone territory when Jules' predictions of an imminent doomsday prove prescient, provoking a bare-knuckle battle over whether our species deserves to survive.
All of Theater on the Edge's previous shows have been impressively immersive, thanks to designer Samantha DiGeorge's hyper-realistic sets, but BOOM elevates the company's technical efforts to an entirely new level. Derek and Jared Rowe of Doctrine Creative, along with director Marco DiGeorge, generated slick sci-fi animations; Nicholas Roberts composed an original score, highlighted by a rousing satirical sing-along led by Barbara (Elaitheia Quinn), the enigmatic observer dressed like an Epcot escapee who mostly comments via kettle drum. Add in the atmospheric fog and stomach-rattling sound effects, and you've got a play-going experience that's as cinematic as any 4D attraction.
Though billed as a comedy, BOOM is more nail-biting than most thrillers, with many gasps and groans between the uncomfortable chuckles when raunchy gags give way to existential angst over global extinction. (There's also a distressing number of casual homophobic slurs, which date it to a decade ago even more than Jules' obsolete iPod.)
Minossora and Raitano both deliver psychically and physically punishing performances that are compelling to watch, but every line is shouted at an 11 on the emotional intensity meter, and their comedic momentum is frequently derailed by Pinteresque pauses.
If I nitpick the details of this explosive production, it's only because this company has blasted my expectations sky-high in their short but incendiary existence. BOOM is challenging, thought-provoking and unlike anything else playing in Orlando right now. Just don't go in looking for an evening of easy belly laughs, because you're more likely to exit shaken, contemplating the end of all mankind and keeping a close eye on your aquarium.
Wind Up 1957 at Savoy's Starlite Room, through Nov. 24
One year ago, I praised the first edition of Scott Browning's drama about a groundbreaking Hollywood gay bar, saying this "earnest plea for acceptance still needs heeding." That need has only increased in the past 12 months, and so has Browning's script, which is back at Savoy's small performance space in an expanded two-act format. While it could still use development, Wind Up 1957 is the most moving examination of homosexual life during the McCarthy era that I've experienced since reading The Snagglepuss Chronicles.
The revised Wind Up 1957, directed by Domino Thomas, isn't as immersive as the previous production, which was staged with the performers in and among the audience. As a result, certain intimate moments lost the magic they had on first viewing. However, dialogue that I felt sounded overly precious last time now feels appropriately poetic ("Being different is a disease these days"). Carol Adubato reprises her role of real-life barkeeper Helen Branson, while Browning returns as Jim, an embittered war vet whose ex-boyfriend Peter (Stephen Lewis) is now engaged to a woman (Melina Kay). Both are again excellent, and they're joined by a number of new actors, most notably BeeJay Clinton as Jack, whose traumatic past hasn't broken his romantic spirit, and Mark Davids as Eli, whose fears about his fellow Americans are far from unjustified.
The newly written second act, which picks up several weeks after the original script, adds meat to the story that is much needed, if challenging to chew. We're introduced to Eli's partner, Don (Joe Zimmer), who breaks our hearts as we watch him grieve in the wake of a brutal gay-bashing. Zimmer delivers a dramatic gut-punch that elevates Wind Up 1957 from a sentimental soap opera to a tragic tearjerker. There are still too many plot lines that go unresolved, and an uplifting coda would be appreciated. But mostly, I wish we didn't live in a world where stories like these needed to be told, so I could review a mindless comedy for a change.