After Eden

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  March 11, 2010

If George Burns and Alanis Morissette can play God, why not Karen MacDonald? Actually, MacDonald's more of a ditzed-out Wizard of Oz in boom (presented by New Rep Downstage at the Arsenal Center for the Arts through March 13), pulling levers and wailing away on percussion as, to her right, the end and new beginning of the world play out with screwball ferocity. It seems a comet is about to crash near Panama, wiping out the planet. But not to worry: a geeky gay scientist who foresaw the boom by studying the behavior of fish has stocked his bomb-shelter lab/grad-student digs with supplies and lured a bristly young journalism student there for purposes of procreation. Off to the side, MacDonald's character, called Barbara, appears to run this apocalyptic sit-com like some bangle-laden, nervous Deity. But as it turns out, she, too, answers to a higher authority.

California playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb likes things primal, as witness his award-winning Hunter Gatherers, in which a contemporary dinner party devolves by dessert into Survivor. Here, fish specialist Jules's best-laid plans go awry. Budding journalist Jo has, in addition to a chip on her shoulder, some weird near-death prognosticating abilities of her own. Besides, she's violently opposed to motherhood and bent on escape. Some of what passes between this potential Adam and Eve (an aptly awkward Scott Sweatt and a tart Zofia Gozynska) is pretty snappy, but their situation charges up quickly and then has nowhere to go but toward tedium. Besides, Nachtrieb winks his way toward what seems an inevitable conclusion, only to pull the rug out from under it.

What makes boom fun to watch (and drives home its point about evolution) is the zany, hovering Barbara, who intrudes more and more into what we learn is a museum exhibit to which she is passionately devoted. Dressed in floaty sea colors and hippie jewelry, half-glasses chained around her neck, her speech an explosive amalgam of words, whooshes, and squawks punctuated by quick work on the drums and cymbals, MacDonald's hilarious yet touching Barbara is like the love child of Mr. Wizard and Madame Arcati.

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