boom, Wellesley Repertory Theatre (Through February 9. 781-283-2000 or wellesleyrep.org)
Pass Over, SpeakEasy Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective (Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, through February 2. bostontheatrescene.com)
By Jules Becker
Apocalyptic images are nothing new on screen — with some of the most striking going back to the Nevil Shute-based film “On the Beach.” If Stanley Kramer’s movie was a still-timely cautionary tale about a world in which all life is dying from the effects of radiation, a more hopeful if potentially claustrophobic tableau takes stage in the 2008 Off-Broadway hit Peter Sinn Nachtrieb play “boom.”
Here two young people — a marine biologist named Jules and a visiting journalist named Jo — cope with being enclosed in the former’s underground university lab space along with a fish aquarium — all the while hearing what may be explosions outside. By turns quirky, humorous and affecting, “boom” — notably in Wellesley Repertory Theatre’s disarmingly charming staging — proves satisfyingly loud about the needs and desires of these very different characters.
While Jules puts up an ad promising “sex to change the course of the world,” the actual rendezvous looks to be a flirtation with disaster. Jules, by his own admission, believes he is gay, and Jo claims to be opposed to having babies. Still, the eccentric biologist is prepared to give intercourse a try to repopulate the world a la Adam and Eve should the explosions be killing off the rest of humanity. As for sex-driven Jo, she is already ordering Jules to strip down to his underwear and socks. Nachtrieb’s dialogue as they get to know each other sparkles with sardonic wit and irony. Rounding out the play’s appealingly singular mix is curator-like Barbara, who may be maintaining the pair as a kind of future Artificial Intelligence exhibit — complete with occasional percussive accompaniment.
A play like “boom” needs actors that can smoothly balance madcap movement, crack timing and an unaffected style, and director Marta Rainer’s seamless production delivers on all three. Lanky Nicholas Yenson displays natural physical comedy as his jaunty Jules embraces the possibility of a relationship with Jo. Chloe Nosan brings good attitude and acerbic tone to Jo. Stephanie Clayman aces the tricky role of Barbara with an ample amount of spunk and panache. Her narrative moments are vivid.
Look for frolicking fun in Wellesley Rep’s buoyant “boom.”
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Think of the streetlamp in “Pass Over” as the modern counterpart of the lonely tree in “Waiting for Godot.” Antoinette Nwandu may not be directly influenced by Samuel Beckett, but her 2019 Lortel Award play does focus on an African-American outdoor pair as tied to each other as the former’s Vladimir and Estragon. Moses has the force and vision of his namesake, while Kitsch demonstrates a flashiness and vulnerability that might call to mind Estragon. Exodus from fear of being shot and a Promised Land of tranquility and dreams are priorities which they await at all times.
This SpeakEasy Stage Company-Front Porch Arts Collective collaboration forcefully examines day-to-day life for African-Americans from their own perspective rather than that of whites who either demonstrate disinterest or deadly opposition. Under Monica White Ndounou’s taut direction, Kadahj Bennett as Moses and Bobby Clue as Kitsch have strong authenticity as the brother-like friends. Bennett possesses Moses’ thoughtfulness and vocal fire. Clue has the right grace and ease as Kitsch. Lewis Wheeler captures Mister’s enigmatic geniality and Ossifer’s arresting volatility. Kathy A. Perkins’ nuanced lighting reflects the ups and downs of their fortunes as they deal with domineering police and whites.
Ignore “Pass Over” at your own peril. This is a play that rightly asks audience members to open their minds and hearts to the challenges that stress out African-Americans regardless of their individual situations.
At the conclusion of the play, white theatergoers are asked to leave to allow black and brown audience members to consider Nwandu’s insights and their own. White counterparts will do well to do the same.