The biggest appeal of playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's apocalyptic comedy boom, the season opener of Project SEE Theatre's first full season, is also its greatest liability: it's a mishmash of genres: sitcom, end-of-the-world drama and science-fiction farce.
Director Sullivan Canaday White's biggest job is to unify its disparate elements, which swing from zany to noir, earnest to glib and back again, so the audience will never lose sight of its ultimate message: that life always wants more life, a truth that asserts itself at the play's end in an unpredictable and entertaining "reveal."
Clever set and lighting design by Mike Sanders and dynamic acting by three veteran performers help this comedy keep its deeper relevance from veering into wackiness.
Ellie Clark and Evan Bergman star as Jo and Jules, the last people on Earth after a comet wipes out civilization.
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When Jo answers Jules' online ad for "intensely significant coupling," she doesn't know that the significance is to save the human species. Or that Jules is gay.
Clark and Bergman deliver well-wrought performances as the sparring couple whose conflicts double as comedy. Their in-the-round blocking is well choreographed and their banter entertaining.
However, Nachtrieb gives Bergman more to work with than Clark. Nachtrieb, who has degrees in biology and theater, draws a complex, semi-nerdy, semi-desperate, super-eager science type in Jules, but he gives Jo less-thoughtful treatment. We know she hates babies and loves cussing and is cynical, but why?
To her credit, Clark gets as much mileage out of Jo as possible, notably in an emotional scene where Jules calls Jo out on her ugly qualities, but Nachtrieb's treatment of his female lead is disappointing. A scene in which Jo recounts the creative ways Jules has tried to inseminate her is played as comedy, but how is that not a kind of rape?
A third character, Barbara, played with offbeat stylization by Trish Clark, is a kind of stage director from the future, showing the audience what happened millions of years ago, when Jo and Jules were the last people alive. Clark's hilariously oddball characterization is something of a mystery, bordering on distraction at times, until a plot twist at the end of the play serves as a clever "aha" moment, punctuated by Sanders' literal illumination of the truth.