by JK Clarke
There’s a pervasive sense of dread hanging over Chrissy’s world in David Rabe’s In the Boom Boom Room, the story of a young woman who settles in the big city (Philadelphia) with hopes of rising to stardom as a dancer in a downtrodden nightclub where she’s a go-go girl. In a new, rare revival of the 1972 play, presented by The Chain Theatre group, and directed by Greg Ciccino, we get an unexpected examination into how much adult entertainment has changed over the last 50 years.
What’s most striking about Chrissy (Nina Kassa) is her remarkable naïveté and vulnerability, particularly for a young woman living alone in the city for the first time. Philadelphia wasn’t a particularly safe city then (much less so than today, to be sure), and when you add to it the lack of safety comforts (notably, cell phones) it’s astonishing to think that she’d take so many risks: she brings home strange, aggressive men from the club and neglects to call the police when her unknown men walk in without knocking.
But as we get to know Chrissy and her father (Pete Mattaliano), we start to see the origin of her dysfunction. At first he comes across as an affable, good fella. But perhaps too friendly, and for a father of a fully grown child he has some serious boundary issues—discussing the men she’s going to have sex with in her new apartment is just a bit too much. Ultimately, there are hints that he may have crossed even more serious lines—with his “funny finger”—when Chrissy was younger. So, it’s no wonder that she winds up dating the aggressive Al (Kirk Gostkowski) and allowing his psychotic friend Ralphie (Paul Terkel) into her apartment. The only potentially positive influence in her life, Guy (amusingly played by Deven Anderson), she unwisely severs ties with.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about In the Boom Boom Room is how much attitudes have changed toward sexuality and, in particular, stripping. After Chrissy takes an adventurous trip to New York, she asks a co-worker, Susan (effervescent Christina Elise Perry) if she’d ever worked in a topless club. “What? Topless? Not on your life?” Susan responds. There would hardly be any differentiation between the two types of clubs today, and stripping carries significantly less stigma today.
Clearly big fans of Rabe*, The Chain Theatre group also recently produced Hurlyburly. Unfortunately, In the Boom Boom Room doesn’t hold up as well—it’s relatively flat and lacks insight by today’s standards and it has more of a tendency to meander. A healthy dose of editing and more lively acting would have been vastly improved this production. Either way, given the drastic changes in American culture since this play’s debut and it’s lack of current relevance (not unlike watching an old TV show from the same era) it’s no surprise it’s seldom performed.
In the Boom Boom Room. Through May 6 (performances Wednesdays through Sundays) at American Theatre of Actors, 314 West 54 Street (between Eighth & Ninth Ave). Run time: Two and half hours, one intermission. www.chaintheatre.org
Photos: Matt Wells and Victor Andrew Heras
[*Editor’s note: A previous version of this review attributed the play Talk Radio to David Rabe. Talk Radio was, of course, written by Eric Bogosian. Theater Pizzazz regrets the error.]