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Friday, August 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 76.0° F  Fair


Madison Theatre Guild's boom is a smart, witty comedy about sex, fate and the end of the world

Jo (Stacy DeGolier, left) and Jules (Nate Peterson) are the worst couple possible for carrying the responsibility of repopulating the human race.
Credit:Jason Atkins
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boom by the Madison Theatre Guild (through May 4 at the Bartell Theatre) starts with a Craigslist ad in the personals section. Jo, a journalism student (Stacy DeGolier), advertises her desire for "sex to change the course of the world," which leads her into the underground laboratory of Jules, a marine biologist (Nate Peterson). She bursts onto the scene ready for earth-shattering intercourse, only to find a nerd obsessed with his apocalyptic theories.

Jules has been studying the sleep patterns of fish over the past few years, and their behavior has convinced him that they sense impending doom. He hypothesizes that a comet will soon hit Earth, maps the exact date and time, and coordinates Jo's visit to coincide with the blast, also known as "the boom."

The show is an educational tale about the end of civilization and the next stage of evolution. That premise allows the story to be more than just another post-apocalyptic fairy tale: This is the day-to-day life of two people slapped in the face by fate.

With the end of mankind unfolding aboveground, Jo is forced to be the Eve to Jules' Adam. She's not interested in being his baby-making machine, though, and it doesn't help that Jules is gay. Together, they are the worst couple possible for carrying the responsibility of repopulating the human race. The play takes us through their time together underground, presenting their story as a museum exhibition millions of years in the future.

Indeed, boom is as loud as its name, with passionate monologues, plenty of expletives, and an over-the-top narrator, Barbara (Julie Jarvis). Barbara is the scatterbrained museum attendant in charge of running the Jules and Jo show. She controls the production with large levers and interrupts the scene every few minutes in an outburst of florid hand gestures and a torrent of personal troubles. Jarvis' performance is magnificent, but her lines can be tiring. Combined with Jo's grating sarcasm and Jules' unsavory attempts to impregnate Jo, none of boom's three characters are particularly likable, but they are all smart. The rapid-fire dialogue is playful and witty, sneaking in big ideas about the origin of life, the role of anonymous sex, and the purpose of death.

At 90 minutes, boom speeds by almost too quickly, giving us just the shell of a great story. But as Barbara says, "You do not need to know everything to believe." She hints that the story of Jules and Jo is of course just a sketch of what truly happened; it did, after all, take place roughly 85 million years ago. This is an entertaining show, but its true victory is the seed it plants in your mind, letting you fill the gaps with your own imagination of a post-apocalyptic world.

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