Seatbelts should be mandatory for Rick Miller’s Boom X, which is playing at the Segal Centre until March 10.
The solo performance follows gen-Xers as they navigate through the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. The play excites audiences with an onslaught of visual and aural stimulation that leaves viewers breathless and overdosed on information.
Archival newsreels and scrolling text of news clippings mark the years as they pass, along with flashing images of instantly recognizable events and consumer products.
Richard Nixon, Kent State, the FLQ Crisis, Sammy Davis Jr. cheek-kissing Archie Bunker, the “Big Owe,” the AIDS epidemic, the birth of hip-hop, glasnost, the Camp David Accords, all unfold before one’s eyes. It’s all accompanied by the music of the times and Miller singlehandedly reproduces them all, male and female, and plays guitar and harmonica to boot.
The actor-author-director alternates from positioning himself behind and in front of a transparent scrim that functions as a projection screen. In this way, he can embody a singing idol, as well as narrate. He makes his transitions with lightning speed and a physical intensity that leaves the awed audience clutching their seats due to the velocity of his performance.
It’s a pace that satisfies the ever-shrinking attention span of younger people, but older audience members may find it overwhelming. Even at intermission, audience members can fill in the blanks during a projected trivia quiz, just like those one sees at the movies before a screening.
Though the identities of pop idols are clear, it’s a little more difficult to differentiate between the voices of the “lay” characters – friends and family he introduces as conduits for the pop culture, politics, sports, fashion and ad jingles that marked their lives.
The audience has to rely on identifying clues that Miller includes when lip-synching their filmed interviews at the outset. Miller does succeed in using these representative Canadians to personalize the world news and the trends he touches upon, making what would otherwise be a barrage of history more relatable.
But the aim is not to delineate individual biographies, except perhaps his own, and that, too, gets a bit muddled with the others. The point of the show is to draw the bigger picture of society and have audience members identify their place in it.
Vintage home movies and photo stills of himself and his interviewees give the proceedings the flavour of the era.
Miller’s talents include composing several numbers of his own that he fits seamlessly into the music of stars like Bob Marley, Gene Simmons, Meat Loaf, the Bee Gees and Aerosmith, many of which are available on the CD he hawks after the show.
He’s also a graduate of the McGill School of Architecture, an accomplishment that he brings into his theatrical career with his use of maquettes – miniature box rooms with plastic figurines that he cleverly
manipulates in front of a live video camera that’s projected onscreen.
After the show, Miller shared how he was adept at impersonations by the age of eight and would get beaten up in the schoolyard because of it. He says his most touching moment was when one of his two daughters, who are 16 and 12, volunteered to be interviewed for the next in the trilogy, which will be titled Boom Z.
Boom X is slated to tour Europe in April and conquer Off-Broadway next winter.