Los Angeles Theater Review: IN THE BOOM BOOM ROOM (Hudson Backstage in Hollywood)

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by Jason Rohrer on July 6, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


In the Boom Boom Room is a David Rabe play that did not win a Tony in 1974.  In it, Rabe demonstrates no particular affinity yet for female characters, of whom there are many.  It is not subtle or quiet, but few Rabe plays are.  In angry, long-winded street poetry, inarticulate folk say smart things about the institutionalized degradation of men and women of the working class, about how little girls grow up to marry their fathers, about why not to use family mythologies as a blueprint for living.  In a variation on Candide, Chrissy (Kate Bowman) travels her world from white trash upbringing to go-go girl plateau to strip club gutter, sustaining her illusions on a misguided tour of self-improvement while those around her get maimed and broken.  The story ultimately provides a mind-fuck gasp of recognition, the whole play a sex-worker origin story hollered by an exotic dancer who sat down at your table to rest her feet.  Not fancy, but serviceable, this script.

in_the_boom_boom_room_300That is, if it has a director, and if you can hear the dialogue over period pop songs, the rights for which would cost more than the script’s rental fees if anyone bothered to pay them. (No such arrangement for music rights appears in the program.)  But this is the sort of bottom-feeder production one can see any night on Santa Monica Boulevard’s infamous Theatre Row, which seems to exist in a world as far from ASCAP as from OSHA.  For the benefit of the cast, I hope someone – anyone – shuts down this production before an actor gets hurt worse than Kate Bowman did (not very) when she tripped and fell opening night.  Between Tom Buderwitz’s oddly designed, poorly carpentered set (with its awkward distribution of playing levels, gaping seams at the top of stair units, and ominously creaking-and-snapping bedframes) and Kristen Boulé’s panic-attack blocking, this show is a compound fracture waiting to happen.  Bowman herself would do well to get in better shape before she takes on a role requiring her to leap, climb, and spaz out for almost three hours (uninspired but at least safe-looking go-go choreography by Alli Miller & Sarah Haworth).  Bruises all over the actor’s body testify to her courage, and to the folly of the undertaking.

Juan Lozano, Kate Bowman and Eric Geller in IN THE BOOM BOOM ROOM - photo by Kristen BouleThis production also illustrates what happens when you put a director with no sense of proportion in the same room with a lead actor who really needs to rein it in: a lot of stomping and yelling.  Producer/director/sound designer/2Cents Theatre Group Founding President and Artistic Director  Kristen Boulé has served the rest of the cast just as poorly, in that their wild variety of skill sets places characters in different plays within each scene.  Everyone seems to have received Philadelphia dialect instruction (from Richard Tatum) yet everyone has a different accent.  There are one or two good performances here, primarily Theresa Tilly’s; Corby Sullivan has all the makings of a fine performance except knowledge of where to pitch it.  I would guess this is because his director misinformed or didn’t tell him.  There are ten other actors.  Some of them are good actors.  You wouldn’t know it under this director.  Everybody but Tilly looks lost much of the time.

10455063_791873664177378_6526617791452810415_nBoulé’s service to the script may be summed up in a prefix: dis.  It is a good idea to learn what functions are served by mode and style before willy-nilly interspersing realism, naturalism, and disinterested theatricality.  Otherwise, one might juxtapose a realistic if poorly staged beating (fight choreography by Brad Ashten) with a dreamscape-y topless dance number; one might stage a well-written scene of child-parent confrontation as kitchen-sink drama that jarringly devolves into absurdist fantasy; and one should not.  I don’t care what the stage directions say.  Neither does a director.  But Boulé also thinks it’s okay to leave multiple cigarettes in ashtrays until they burn out, relighting and replacing them over and over, effectively filling this hot, uncomfortable little theater with smoke for the entire running time.  This director finds it acceptable to carry two bags of groceries onstage, then for the balance of the play abandon them on a full bar that takes up a fifth of the playing area and is not used once in the whole show.  That bar and those paper sacks are among the objects adequately lighted by Jenna Pletcher, even when they are not the focus of action, which is ever.

10155871_747749198589825_4288883498567141137_nWhat else can be said.  It is good, I suppose, that someone expends the energy to run a theater company that produces “women playwright Festivals” and keeps the Hudson in rent money.  It is not good when that company’s work perpetuates the low standard for which Theatre Row is a fair synonym.  It’s hard to know why to support the efforts of an artistic director whose directing credits seem limited to shows she has produced herself.  Few artists can grow in a vacuum.  So I suggest buying this play and reading it instead of going to see this show; unless you work for the kind of authoritative body that protects the safety of actors or theatergoers (fire marshal? Someone?), or ensures songwriters’ royalties, in which case I hope you buy a ticket today.

photo by Kristen Boulé

In the Boom Boom Room
2Cents Theatre Group
Hudson Backstage in Hollywood
scheduled to end on August 3, 2014
for tickets, call (323) 960-7785 or visit www.2centstheatre.com

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Cris D'Annunzio July 7, 2014 at 8:34 pm

Mr. Rohrer,
My name is Cris D’Annunzio. I am part of the cast of the play, In The Boom Boom Room. First of all, I would like to offer my sincere appreciation for coming out to see the show. I have been doing equity waiver theatre in LA for the better part of 20 years and realize how difficult it is to get audiences – let alone reviewers – so, thank you. Secondarily, I felt compelled to respond to your review for one specific reason. While I will admit this is by far one of the most condemning reviews I have read of any play ever, it is not that with which I find exception. I believe it was Pinter that pointed out – something to the effect – that we do ourselves and our craft a great disservice by allowing just anyone to tread the boards of the stage, simply for the sake of human kindness, regardless of talent, or lack thereof. I do not feel that is applicable necessarily to this production, but I do echo these sentiments and feel that your “brand” of criticism is both refreshing and beneficial. That notwithstanding, I must say that even though your opinion and criticism of this production is valued, even substantiated in some instances, I draw the line when it becomes personal. I get that you are, in part, playing a “character” as well, but even in the most cynical of circumstances, calling out an actor’s physical being is beyond mean-spirited and downright unnecessary. When you point out that an actor, “would do well to get in better shape before she takes on a role requiring her to leap, climb, and spaz out for almost three hours,” you surpass the boundaries of responsible journalism and any value that you have contributed is erased. Furthermore, the insinuation of your comment is contradictory to your suggestion that one forego seeing this show in favor of reading the play. I would proffer that you may do well to heed your own advice prior to making your statements as you would no doubt read in the many descriptions of the character Chrissy that she is unglamorous, perhaps out-of-shape and, though sexy, anything but your stereotypical go-go dancer. Regardless, my point is that it is irresponsible and unnecessary to criticize an actor on a personal level. In this business, actors are constantly told not to take it personally. That is preposterous to the point of being oxymoronic. How can acting be anything but personal? Yet, we must somehow find a way to overcome constant rejection and criticism and use it constructively to grow. When it actually IS personal, that makes it all the more difficult. That said, I have come to know this actor and this cast very well over the past six weeks and am confident that she – and they – will rise above this and soldier on. I, for one, know that I will – not in spite of your comments, but because of them. Again, I thank you for coming to the show and wish you the best with your continued efforts in the vital work of helping LA Theater grow and thrive.


Jason Rohrer July 7, 2014 at 11:03 pm

Mr D’Annunzio, I appreciate your concern and your articulate civility. It means a great deal to me, especially since as you can imagine I regularly receive complaints not couched in generous sentiments. Thank you for writing.

I think you have misread the line in question. “get in better shape” is not per se about someone’s physical description; not in my common usage, and certainly not in this case. The sentence describes not how she looked nor how one might wish she looked but rather what she had to do with her body at every performance. I hate to differ with you, because I admire your intelligence and your chivalry, but in context I feel it is pretty clear that I am describing not the appearance of an actor but her stamina. In a critique of an actor’s work, this surely comes within the bounds of my bailiwick.

What I describe is an actor already visibly bruised by the rehearsal process, who tripped and fell because she didn’t raise her foot enough to leap onto an awkwardly high platform for the 100th time in 2 1/2 hours. This role, in this production, on this deathtrap of a set, demands an athlete’s fitness regimen, and it is my judgment that like any person of average fitness, she got tired. I am so concerned for her safety, and that of the many actors running and dancing on this stage barefoot, with unfastened masonite a trip hazard at the top of each step unit, who are required to climb onto and off of levels exceeding four or five times the code specs for a step, that I have made a public request that some authority concern itself with putting this thing right.

I hope, sir, that you can see the sentence that offended you in the light in which I wrote it. You can observe from the hundreds of my reviews scattered about the web that I do not make dismissive fat-girl comments about actors. That is what you’re accusing me of, and I must object. That is not what’s in the review.


Cris D'Annunzio July 8, 2014 at 11:35 am

Thank you for the clarification, Jason. Well said. Obviously I misinterpreted the point. My apologies. All the best.


Jason Rohrer July 8, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Thank you, Cris, for your graciousness. I am just really really moved that this exchange has been so polite. I am grateful that you urged me to clarify what was not clear enough in the review, and for that, I both apologize and thank you.


Rob Stevens July 9, 2014 at 8:59 am

I wholeheartedly endorse this review, especially your remarks about the direction. Read the play, don’t see this production of it. I was fortunate enough to see two very good productions of this play in the late 1970s. The first was at Group Repertory Theatre’s old space on Magnolia Blvd. with the amazing Barbara Rae as Chrissy. The second was a production at Long Beach’s Center Theatre with the equally amazing Jill Clayburgh. I was really looking forward to seeing the play again after 35 plus years. I was forced to leave at intermission because the cigarette smoke was aggravating my throat causing extreme coughing. But I was wondering when they would ever get around to using that bar.


Jack Paper July 19, 2014 at 12:32 am

Harsh review. I saw the show tonight and thought it was ok. Not bad. Not outstanding. The type of thing you see on Theatre Row in Hollywood for sure, but I didn’t leave at intermission. Sure there was cigarette smoke and sure it was bothersome at times in the hot theater…but we deal with it I suppose. We all have to suffer for our art at times…if we are seeing it, or bleeding for it. But this reviewer is far too harsh.


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