By Jake Robinson, October 18 2016 —
Around the third or fourth time your dad paws ineffectively at your laptop as you gently explain to him it isn’t a touch screen, you’re not wrong for having a common thought — maybe baby boomers would be better off in a nice comfy grave where there’s no bitcoin or Uber to scare or confuse them.
So it’s good that, every once in a while, a play like BOOM comes along. Conceived by writer, director and sole performer Rick Miller, BOOM was born at the High Performance Rodeo two years ago.
Miller takes the stage in a series of stories that span 25 years. He inhabits a variety of characters and nails impressions of historical figures — his Nixon/Kennedy debate is one for the ages. He also belts out the signature songs that form the soundtrack of baby boomers.
The play opens with interviews between Miller on stage and video of actual boomers whose lives he’s cannibalized to make this story. It’s not until the third interview I realized the video was mute. Miller’s voice carries both sides of every conversation without missing a beat.
The most jarring moments of the play are when Miller speaks in his own voice — not because he screws it up, but because it reminds you a single man is the driving engine behind the whole thing.
On stage, Miller is a chameleon on speed. He flips from Bugs Bunny to Winston Churchill to Bob Dylan without missing a beat.
BOOM takes the audience through the iconic moments of history and pays the price for it — iconic means predictable. While he perfectly renders the Who’s “My Generation” or Elvis’ “Hound Dog,” the awe you feel is tempered by the inevitability of it all. Of course he was going to sing “My Generation.” How could he not?
For even a casual student of history, the ups and downs of the Cold War aren’t a highlight. It’s hard to get really fired up about Kennedy’s presidency when you know exactly how it ends.
But BOOM’s merit doesn’t lie in its ability to teach history. The moments that matter are the simple human ones — the tug of war between winning your parents’ approval and being your own person or the goofy romantic gestures we use to win hearts. BOOM’s core message is one of the cyclical nature of history — the eternal struggle of growing up and making a place for yourself.
In that way this play might be better for millennials than boomers because it’s about being young in a world that changes faster than you and forces you to sprint to keep up.
I went with my parents and walked out liking it more than them.
If you’re looking for a feel-good piece you can clap and sing along to, save your money. BOOM isn’t a white-washed revisionist look at a slice of history. JFK doesn’t beat up communism one-handed then ride a wave of economic prosperity straight to the moon. Draft cards drive young men from their homes. Men of peace are snuffed out by pieces of lead.
BOOM is a testament to the range of Miller — three powerful stories and some creative staging.
Don’t take your parents to BOOM because they’re old. Don’t take them because it’ll be nostalgic. Take them because it’s good. And take yourself because you might get some insight into your folks and end up wanting to keep them out of that grave a little longer. After all, they’ve already been through a lot.
BOOM will play at Theatre Calgary until Oct. 29. Tickets are available online and start at $35.
For more information, visit theatrecalgary.com