When is casual sex more than casual? When there’s a bigger agenda at hand. And the agenda in The Basement Project’s ambitious debut production of Boom — playing through Jan. 31 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami — is big indeed. Life. Death. Fish. Tampons.
But first, it’s just two people, Jo (Nicole Fernandez) and Jules (Francisco Carreno), who have come together for the most obvious and natural of reasons. She studies journalism. He’s a marine biology grad student. She has responded to his online ad — he has promised “sex to change the course of the world” — and as the play opens they have arrived at Jules’ apartment (which looks a lot more like a bunker than a home). Jo wants to get right to it. “Take off your pants,” she orders. Jules bumbles. Then demurs. Then haltingly explains.
But wait. A third person appears to be stage-managing the action. Barbara (Cuci Amador of local electrofunk band Afrobeta) chats to the audience and pulls levers that control our heroes. Is she a puppet master? A museum docent? Is the meeting of Jo and Jules reality or some sort of origin myth with sporadic musical interludes?
A new South Florida theater company in residence at the museum, The Basement Project, tackles this provocative work by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb with a new and energetic Miami angle: director Oleg Kheyfets has added original music from Afrobeta (the other half of the band, Tony Smurfio, who designed the sound, waits silently at the side of the stage behind a barricade of musical equipment).
This clever addition is a mixed blessing: The songs — more snippets than full-blown numbers — underline Barbara’s desperate desire to put her mark on the story, just as we all demand an active role in our own mythmaking. Amador, not surprisingly, is a commanding stage presence, especially in such a small space. But the musical breaks sometimes make the play feel choppy and overlong, and unfortunately the music sounds better than some of Nachtrieb’s exposition, which is at times repetitive and not quite as witty as it should be.
Tucked away in a storage room of the museum, the set could easily be an installation itself, a pointed comment on the careless disposable habits that doom our society. Designed by Alexander Solodukho, who makes an amusing and on-target statement with pool noodles and cardboard, the set is made mostly from recycled materials (the walls of Jules’ apartment are lined with plastic bottles, a not-so-subtle reference to what washes up on the shores of Miami every day). The funky costumes, designed by Kayce Armstrong, also make good use of recycled and found material.
Fernandez is a prickly and defiant Jo, and Carreno nails Jules’ prodigious nervous tics, though his frequent sputtering sometimes overwhelms his dialogue and makes his lines hard to follow. But with its unique blend of art, music and performance — weekend ticket holders can view the rest of the museum exhibits before the Saturday and Sunday shows — Boom offers a fresh and unusual theater-going experience.
If you go
What: The Basement Project’s “Boom”
Where: Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, 770 NE 125th St.
When: Through Jan. 31; Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; admission to exhibits free with tickets on the weekends
Tickets: $18.50-$35; www.basementproject.org or 305-677-9200