Monday, November 10, 2008

Boom! Saving the Human Race

That’s one of the truths of biologists. We always have ice.
To freeze the things we kill.
And for drinks.
~ Jules the marine biologist in Boom, by Peter Nachtrieb

As an undergraduate at Brown University, playwright Peter Nachtrieb studied both theatre and biology. His study of the mating patterns of the Panamanian damselfish was the inspiration for his latest play, Boom, billed as a comedic "sci-fi fantasy". As the program notes explain Nachtrieb also addresses the difficulties in effectively communicating science - particularly evolution and global warming - to the public:
He knows the frightening scenarios that face us—and he knows the struggles our scientists face in communicating them to the rest of the world. Humans will eventually die off or evolve as every species before them has. While some people would despair at this knowledge, Peter chooses to sees beauty in the larger picture. “I definitely feel that a sort of natural approach to the world, seeing humans as organisms, is a major cornerstone to my world view.” Boom dramatizes the quest for truth in the face of great obstacles, ultimately celebrating the resilience of life itself.
So what is the play about? Jules is a graduate student who studies fish sleep cycles in an underground laboratory which doubles as his apartment. He is joined by Jo, a journalism student who is answering a calssified ad offering "sex to change the course of the world". Their encounter shifts towards "realms of ontogeny, phylogeny, evolution and extinction" and saving the human race. A strange woman pulling levers also has something to do with their situation.

You can read the first 20 pages of the script (pdf), which sets up the encounter, but doesn't give away much of the plot. The quote from Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale at the beginning may give a hint of where Nachtrieb is coming from. And if you want to know more details, there's a spoilery review in the New York Times.

There will be a panel discussion of the scientific themes of Boom at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington DC on Saturday, November 22, with marine biologists Kiho Kim, Dwayne Meadows and Mark Eakin. Admission is free, but you must RSVP by Thursday, November 20th to secure a seat.

Boom is at the Woolly Mammoth through December 7. If you aren't in the vicinity of Washington DC, Boom can be seen at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, November 13-December 14 and the Cleveland Public Theatre, November 28-December 20.

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