Peter Sinn Nachtrieb explores the humorous side of mankind’s annihilation in ‘Boom’
BOOM at The MAC,
3120 McKinney Ave.
Through March 13. $15â€“$30.
When you stand 6 feet 6, it’s hard to work in "underground" theater, but that’s basically what Peter Sinn Nachtrieb does with Boom. But his play, set in a subterranean lab, has more in common with the underground than its setting. It also reflects Nachtrieb’s skewed take on relationships.
It’s hard not to draw parallels between the play’s protagonist, Jules, and the playwright himself — most notably, that both are gay men who studied marine biology (though Nachtrieb, natch, double-majored in theater).
"Definitely some of the backstory of Jules was culled from my life," Nachtrieb admits from his home in San Francisco. "Before dawn, we would go to these reefs seeing which fish were mating with other fish. The atmosphere of that world all made it into the play. And I’ve been told there are mannerisms of Jules that resemble me. He’s close to a worldview I have, especially about how I try to make sense of things. The less autobiographical part shows up later."
And by "later," he means after mankind is wiped off the face of the earth by a comet.
And if you couldn’t tell, Boom is a comedy.
Boom builds on the kind of premise you’d find on Twilight Zone, filtered through a surreal sketch comedy troupe: Gay nerd sets up blind date with straight woman with the intention of repopulating the planet. (It sort of poses the question, "Would you really not sleep with him if he were the last man on earth?") Indeed, one of his other plays, Hunter Gatherers (which recently had a run in Addison), was first performed by a comedy troupe.
Still, Nachtrieb doesn’t like to overthink Boom, which has, quite literally, exploded on the theater scene: More than a dozen performances in the past year, including one that opens Friday at Kitchen Dog Theater.
"I have an obsession on apocalyptic themes," he concedes. "I’ve always loved disaster movies, too, so that’s always interested me in my writing. And I love comedy."
His loosey-goosey attitude may explain the casual way he writes his stage directions, which are full of vague suggestions but few specifics.
"I don’t want to be prescriptive," he says. "Some of the stuff is suggesting an impulse behind the character. In general, it has been exciting and positive to see the various versions [of my plays]. Some are clearly more successful than others but there’s no perfect production in my mind, though Kitchen Dog seems like a perfect place for it."
Nachtrieb started on the other side of the footlights, appearing in his college theater, including a life-changing production of West Side Story, where he played Riff. Looking around the dressing room he realized all the other Jets were gay and wondered, as their leader, whether he was, too.
"Being in that play helped me start to more actively explore my sexuality. I talked to my parents about it before I talked to my friends, which is definitely not the usual way. There was no Craigslist when I was in college; if there was I probably wouldn’t have gotten much done."
Acting eventually led to writing (Boom is Nachtrieb’s sixth play), which has been supported by his "more-than-a-boyfriend" — they’ve been together coming up on nine years — who works as a nurse … and supplies fodder for Nachtrieb’s plots.
"He has a really good sense of sass," he says. "I have never based a single character on him but he’s quicker on his tongue than I am, and some of his good comebacks have made it into a lot of characters. But I still have not found the right the play for all the poop stories he has from the hospital."
There’s always play No. 7 for that.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 12, 2010.