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Despite its loaded title, In the Boom Boom Room is not a sexy play. It is instead a black and brutal exploration of one woman's sexual and psychological "underside." The Harvard-Radcliffe Summer Theater's production of the work is not good theater in its easiest definition--no one in the audience will leave with a renewed joi de vie, or humming a catchy show tune. But it is undeniably powerful.
In the Boom Boom Room
Directed by Sonya Rasminsky
Produced by Mary Elizabeth Rieffel
At the Loeb Experimental Theater
July 12-July 28
Most of the credit has to go to the text, by award-winning playwright David Rabe. It is a complex and ambitious piece. The considerable action unfolds on the company's marvelous set resplendant with giant records, neon beer signs, and flashing lights. The set remarkably resembles a seedy lounge; it is the only truly recognizable aspect of the production. The surrealistically awful tale focuses on go-go girl Chrissy's growing instability, and the insensitive cretins there to witness it.
From the beginning, nothing in this play seems kosher. There is an opening scene in which Chrissy (China Forbes) and her father, Harold (Blake Spraggins), are dancing close. Harold, decidedly unpaternal and sleazy, elaborates on his recent prostrate problems. He also tells Chrissy that she will make love often in her new apartment--with blond boys, Black boys and hot-blooded Spaniards, he says.
The scene hints strongly enough at the incestuous relationship between the two that its eventual revelation is no revelation at all. The suspense is not unbearble; the slow, sure and gruesome arrival at it is. We watch Chrissy reject a mother who attempted to abort her and favor a father responsible for her innumerable personal and sexual problems.
Other, equally disturbing undercurrents exist in the play. Racism is a trifle too recurrent a theme here. Even the grittiest of theater-goers will begin cringing around the fiftieth mention of the word "nigger."
The characters are almost universally unsavory and filty-mouthed. The male characters alternate between using, abusing and claiming ownership of the women. for their part, are either vengeful, despondent or schizophrenic.
The play has been called compassionate by some, but it is really a cold-blooded indictment of gender relationships and the modern world. Rabe wrote the play largely in short takes, and the quick scenes fail to make the characters any more accessible or sympathetic.
Forbes, cast in the lead role, suffers the most under this burden. With acute psychological insight, Rabe drew Crissy as a confused child-woman. But he keeps Chrissy too busy with some ridiculous subplots; the script calls for more emotional acrobatics that even an actress of Forbes' considerable presence can successfully perform.
She gives a striking performance in her final confrontation scene with her husband Al (Anthony Koronto Hatch), and it is unfortunate that the rest of her time on stage could not have been as powerful. The delivery of earlier lines is impeded by an inexplicable and transient country-girl twang. In the end, Forbes has won the audience's pity rather than affection.
Hatch has a more manageable role as Al, a selfish and insecure racist. Hatch has a talent for movements and mannerism that is wonderfully showcased here. He avoids the easy and flat characterization, and his fits of passion are full and believable.
Tom Hopkins is an engaging and comic as Guy, Chrissy's gay neighbor. He displays marvelous range in the role making split-second shifts from solicitousness to viciousness.
The male character with the least direction is Harold. Spraggins is lost and lifeless in this subtle and demanding role. He is almost uniformly unbelievable, his delivery heavy handed and poorly timed, especially in scenes with Forbes alone.
The supporting actresses all give strong performances. Lyra O. Barrera has great sexual energy as Susan, and though she garbles some lines at the microphone, her delivery is well targeted. Bina Martin clomps convincingly through her role as tragi-comic Sally. Her porcelain face betrays just the right amount of suffering. The women do well in the go-go dances, as they bump and grind chairs on stage to the tune of some mean music; their opportunities to do so are unfortunately limited.
Rabe's script, though innovative, is flawed. Despair and disillusionment too readily become modern cliches, and should be meted out carefully.
What redeems the work in the end is the dialogue, in its acuity and trenchant wit. The levels of diction in the production, either through directorial or textual failings, are almost as numerous as the subplots, but it is hard to complain. The moments of lyricism in the play compensate. Chrissy wants to dance ballet and "other dances that tell a story, of which go-go is only a poor fascimile."
It would be ridiculous to condemn Rabe's work solely for being too brutal. Theater is not a utilitarian concept, nor should it ever be. The playwright, like Chrissy, just wants to tell a story. And as Harold says, "Life's sad. Chrissy, it makes you want to cry." But Rabe never gives us time or inclination to do so between the short scenes as inhospitable to Chrissy as the characters that surround her.
Chrissy in the play swears she is "gonna be a hammer and everyone else a nail in a world of wood." In the Boom Boom Room might make the audience wonder why the world, and occasionally drama, has to be so wooden.
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