Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Boom

Last night I saw Vinnie Nardiello's play The Boom at Theater for the New City's Dream Up Festival. This wonderful new piece about the lives of stand-up comics (written by a stand-up comic himself) is only playing until September 20th, so make plans to see it now. It is not to be missed!

Nardiello's title comes from the boom in stand-up comedy in the late '80s and early '90s when clubs across the country thrived, offering an array of often shocking comedians to young, hip audiences who flocked to nights of drinking and good times. That boom is now long gone, and a nostalgia for the good old days sweeps across most of the characters in the play.

Some clubs keep special apartments for traveling comics, and The Boom takes place in a condominium in Pittsburgh owned by a local comedy club. Three comedians are sharing the place: the mediocre MC, "Big" Tim McGuinness (played by Richie Byrne), the up-and-coming YouTube sensation Ray Messina (played by Dan Stern), and the nearly washed-up oldtimer, Buddy Darby (played by DJ Hazard).

Much of the play centers around the conflict between Buddy and Ray, as the bad-boy genius of yesterday's comedy circuit finds himself being upstaged by a younger rival eager to replace him as the headliner. Like his character, Hazard has worked with some great comics (Bobcat Goldthwait, Paula Poundstone, etc.) and toured all over the country (even living out of his car when he needed to at times). He brings an immediate sense of authenticity to the role, and his performance is the highlight of the show.

Ray is ingratiating, but we also are not terribly surprised when it turns out he's been less than honest about his sudden rise to fame. Stern does an excellent job making the character likable, even as he descends lower and lower in his bid for success. As Big Tim, Byrne is loud, crude, and obnoxious, but occasionally exhibits a tender side that reminds us why Buddy wants to keep him around. Make no mistake, though. This is a dog-eat-dog world, and Big Tim seems ready to jettison anything and anyone he needs to in order to keep his career alive.

The club's manager, Miranda (played by Kara Jackson), has a touching relationship with the aging Buddy. Their unromantic romance is simple and complicated at the same time. And just when the play seems to have settled into a sad reverie on the passing of greatness, party girl Cara (played by Melissa Stokoski) comes on stage, offering a fresh burst of energy. The high and drunken Cara's painfully bad attempts to tell jokes to a room full of professional comedians are so un-funny that they end up being hysterical.

Director Mark Riccadonna deserves credit for helping the cast to meld together into a wonderful comic unit. My only regret is that Nardiello seems unsure how to end the piece. A play this moving and entertaining deserves a stronger finish. Still, it's one heck of a ride, and I definitely recommend checking it out before it closes later this month.

For more information check out the show's website here:

The Boom