Secrets and Lies
Secrets run rampant in Isobel Mahon’s comedy “Boom?” where five women discover that keeping things hidden is a lot harder than you think. With some incredible comic moments, wonderfully observed humour, and some stellar performances, “Boom?” often delivers big on the belly laughs. But with its weak story, and weak direction, it can spark more than it ignites in an engaging tale of secrets and lies, and the five women who live them.
Set over the course of a single evening, “Boom?” sees tales of disappearing husbands, psychiatric hospitals, old affairs, and new friendships gathering for a party in Selma Mae’s newly constructed extension. Mum Carmel, a wannabe Yummy Mummy at sixty three, prances about in her leopard print leggings finding fault with everything and everyone, especially her two daughters. Only Chloe, Selma Mae’s tasteful neighbor from two doors down, is above reproach. As ephemeral as she is pretentious, Chloe from Cork is the height of sophistication in Carrickmines in 2006. Mother of a suburban terrorist, her art appreciation might not be all it could be, but Chloe knows everything about anything, from the proper way to judge wine, the dangers of allergens, to guided meditations to find your inner door. Selma Mae’s wine swilling, no nonsense sister, Maeve, thinks Chloe is for the birds. But that privilege might have to go to Selma Mae’s newest acquaintance, Bernie, an MDOC (manic depressive obsessive compulsive) with a penchant for cling film. As the night progresses, and alcohol flows, pipes are not the only things to burst, as the lies that disguise give way to secrets untold and decisions will have to be made about what happens next.
While Mahon’s script is laced with observational humour of such finesse that you simply want to bask in it, narratively it leaves a lot to be desired. Problematic husbands, current and former, and a child, Timmy, forcible wedged in near the end, serve as weak devices to link the laughs rather than providing much needed narrative cohesion. Trying to give substance by way of some flimsy backstories, they make the whole feel contrived, as does an unconvincing ending that comes as far more of a whimper than a bang. Something director Caroline Fitzgerald fails to adequately come to grips with, seeming to focus instead on setting up the jokes rather than the story. In this regard, Fitzgerald risks hamming it up, playing it all for the obvious laughs, often neglecting the richer possibilities of Mahon’s comedy, and the more potent character nuances available in the script. Thankfully a stellar cast make up much of the often considerable difference.
For “Boom?” is at its most engaging best when it lets its five women just be, free from an unconvincing narrative, to talk wine, talk spiteful, or to talk behind one anothers back. Isobel Mahon as Selma Mae, a woman with some thinking to do, forms the gravitational centre around which everything revolves. As well as playing straight woman to a delightful Maria McDermottroe as her eternally judgmental, socially ambitious mother, Carmel. Claudia Carroll as the paragon of pretension, Chloe, and Aisling O’Neill as the under used, straight talking Maeve, are pure comedy gold. Carroll sets them up and O’Neill knocks them down every time with the timing and precision of seasoned comedy veterans. A scene stealing Rose Henderson as Bernie, Blowly, Bunty, or any other B name you can probably think off, is simply fantastic as a kind of Lear’s fool, as wise in her madness as the others are mad in their apparent wisdom.
There’s a reason why “Boom?”, entitled “Party Face” in the US, has proven to be hugely popular in New York. And it’s not just because it stars Hayley Mills. It’s because Mahon’s comedic script, narratively weak though it is, provides some smart commentary on boom, and post boom, Ireland. On mothers and daughters, and the fads, failings and friendships that exist between five wonderfully engaging women. And of the pressures, self inflicted and otherwise, they struggle with. If this production doesn’t realise all the nuances that lie at the heart of “Boom?” it still provide generous amounts of laughter, some exquisite comic performances, and an enjoyable evening out with the girls.
“Boom?” by Isobel Mahon, presented by The Gaiety Theatre and Jan Warner Productions, runs at The Gaiety Theatre until March 31st
For more information, visit The Gaiety Theatre.