The University of Iowa University of Iowa

UI Theater Show Preview: Boom Boom Town

Where do we go when we die?



Or somewhere else?

Written by grad student Alysha Oravetz and directed by Felipe Carrasco, Boom Boom Town provides a darkly comedic insight to life, death, and everything in between. Filled with unique characters and countless twists and turns, Boom Boom Town was definitely an unexpected treat.

The play takes place in a strip club owned by Marjorie (Haley Courter) and Travis (Andrew Berger). The two – joined by bar patrons Declane (Marc Saladino) and Lynn (Danny Peterson), Officer Judith (Lexi Morsch), and stripper Caroline (Sheradin Jansen) – embark on personal journeys for truth and redemption. They are guided by Ukrainian stripper/prostitute/”wise woman” Yelena (Christina Sullivan), known first to the audience as the Greek goddess Persephone. Persephone and Underworld guardian Cer (Boston Dunning) watch as each character makes realization after realization about themselves and at the end, sends each spirit to its corresponding section of the Underworld.

The Underworld, also known as Hades
The Underworld, also known as Hades.

I was immediately intrigued after I sat down and was given a play bill with the title of the play, the cast and crew, and a description of the Fields of Asphodel. A long-time fan of Greek mythology, I was excited to see the part the Underworld would play in the show; I was not disappointed.

At the end of play, each character sits in front of one of the three sections of the audience and takes their turn making a final monologue before succumbing to the Underworld. In front of me sat Marjorie, Travis, and Caroline; to my left in the Elysian Fields sat Judith and Declane; to my right sat Lynn in the Fields of Punishment.

While all gave rousing and thought-provoking monologues, Marjorie’s was the one that resonated with me as an audience member. She talked about all of the everyday things she would miss, and how she wanted all the simple, little things back. She knew she was on the brink of nonexistence and she was terrified. Courter’s performance in that moment was one of the most emotionally hard-hitting of the whole show.

The Elysian Fields, aka Elysium, the resting place of heroes
The Elysian Fields, aka Elysium, the resting place of heroes.

Just as hard-hitting was Jansen’s performance, particularly during one scene where her character Caroline has been pushed to her breaking point. Emotionally unstable and isolated, Caroline turns to cocaine. In her rush to snort the line and temporarily suppress her pain, Caroline becomes frantic and loses patience with both the situation and herself. She swipes the powder off the table and breaks down in tears. It was a moment of weakness for Caroline but a moment of brilliance for Jansen.

As much as I enjoyed the play, I was constantly struggling to follow the plot. The dialogue was – at times – sporadic and seemed unrelated. Perhaps the confusion was intentional, but as I felt the exposition was already underdeveloped, the effect was debilitating.

Thirty minutes and one in-depth conversation with my boyfriend (who, having no background in Greek mythology, struggled to understand the play in its entirety) later, I was finally able to piece together most of the plot. Persephone and Cer are guardians of the Underworld, watching for souls on the brink of death and guiding them to their rightful places in the afterlife. The characters in the bar died (I’m still not clear on when) and spend the whole play trying to come to terms with their lives and the choices they did or didn’t make. In hindsight, the plot wasn’t difficult to figure out; the dialogue just became too distracting.

I was impressed by the scene changes as well as the lighting throughout. The cast acted as a stage crew, moving set pieces in the dark while club music blared over the speakers. Occasionally, a silhouette of Caroline dancing could be seen behind a sheet on a walkway above the stage. These were very cool elements that entertained as well as engaged me as an audience member.

Finally, I was very bothered by the chemistry between Persephone and Cer. Their relationship is a classic example of love-hate, but I was missing the connection. There was something so forced about a lot of their interactions that left me wanting more, and not in a good way. While Sullivan and Dunning both gave impressive and energetic performances, so much potential was missed when their characters interacted. Interestingly, the chemistry seemed to be at its best when the two were physically further apart and suffered more and more the closer they became.

Persephone leading Cerberus, official guard-dog of the Underworld
Persephone leading Cerberus, official guard-dog of the Underworld, courtesy of DevianArt.

Overall, Boom Boom Town served as an impressive response the frequently asked, “Where do we go when we die?” Excessive swearing and questionable delivery aside, the themes concerning what’s really important in this life each of us has been given were powerful.

Although Boom Boom Town is no longer showing, the university’s Theatre department has many more production lined up for the semester. Make sure to visit the website for times, tickets, and synopses.