Written by Merri Biechler
At Teatro Luna
Enter a mind blown apart by its own devices.
Inadvertently timely, Bombs, Babes and Bingo touches on a key political hot button of the day. As drone strikes become more and more precise, the rarefaction of civilian casualties becomes all the more apparent. With accusations that the current administration is deflating those numbers through some tricky definition footwork, Bombs takes a look at a fictional organization tasked with hyper-refining the explosive devices that do the dirty work in the “cleanest” way possible. That means finding the ‘magic’ number of acceptable civilian casualties for any given target, imploding buildings instead of exploding, etc. Inside FUBBA (Federation of United Bomb Builders of America), the tragedy of the death of a few versus the statistic of thousands is going to be brought home for one mathematician who can no longer hide behind the abstraction of numbers. The smarter the bomb, it would seem, the crazier the bomb maker.
The scientist at the brain and heart of this tale is Dennis Davenport (Richard Perez). He’s a family man living on a top-secret base, and we encounter him at his lowest point. He’s spent his life designing the math behind better and smarter bombs. Now he sits in a hospital after 120 days in the ICU following an absurdly primitive junk bomb that killed his driver and interpreter in Pakistan. What follows is his attempt to reconstruct his life in the misfiring of his synapses that is portrayed in a strange theatrical device wherein a mysterious woman (Megan Tabaque) calls out scenes from his life by way of a random Bingo number generator. In rapid fire succession (one of any nearly 4 million permutations of the plot structure) Dennis’ life plays out in deliriously disjointed fashion. No two shows are the same, and it begs questions about how much we can trust memory and how much the order of our lives’ moments affect where we end up. The show begins and ends with the same scenes, so I would say Biechler believes the answers to be “don’t trust it” and “not much,” respectively.
Putting together Dennis’ life like a puzzle with only a dim picture on the box to follow, Biechler has loaded the random scenes with all the most important moments in his life. We see him meeting his wife Ellen (Stephanie Stroud), marrying, having their daughter (Erica Cruz Hernandez) and the various trials and tribulations that affected his life. Torn between being a family or a company man, he copes with a his beloved wife’s increasing flakiness and his daughter’s desire to follow in his footsteps. I want to stop here because most of the fun is seeing these scenes play out randomly and following Dennis in his strange, poignant and often surreal journey to figure out his work and life meaning. What happens when you do your job so well that the numbers become faces with names and not summations at the end of a column? Does that make Dennis a murderer? What becomes of the women in his life when he can’t be the father and husband they need?
Impressively infused with energy, the cast does a fantastic job of adapting to the mood of the scene required seconds after it’s announced. Stroud and Hernandez have the trickiest jobs. While Dennis remains a constant personality throughout, they must shift between different levels of maturity, age and emotional states with lightning fast yet ever steady control over their performances. Stroud in particular stands out as a quirky housewife deteriorating under the strain of balancing the equation of duties as a mother and wife. She also brings the most comic moments to the production with her clown-college career (and with her precision, I had to wonder if she actually ever was a clown). Aided by some marvelously creepy video projections by Michelle Underwood and a toy box set design also by Michelle Underwood with Robert S. Kuhn, the tone jumps from romantic to somber to hilarious in a whirling 80 minutes that never fails to be engrossing and mentally engaging.
What is the price of cognitive dissonance when you can’t distribute the guilt for the innocent lives you add to the guilty one you subtract? Getting to watch Dennis’ chickens come home to roost when it blows up in his face in more ways than one is totally absorbing if not a little disconcerting. It’s the big made increasingly small, and without saying too much about that plot, his daughter’s fate is a very interesting bookend to his own life that makes the point in a more subtle way than an explosion. It’s certainly entertaining but not for the intellectually lazy. This keeps you on your toes and doesn’t let itself or you off the hook for being smartly engaged in the world, free of abstractions and any sense that we are not intricately a part of the bigger equations.
Reviewed by Clint May
Date Reviewed: June 3, 2012
At Teatro Luna, 3914 N. Clark St, Chicago, IL 60613, call 773.819.5862