I saw David Rabe’s play “In the Boom Boom Room” when it was done in 1973 at Vivian Beaumont Theater, and although my memories of it have faded, I do recall being fascinated by the performance of the fabulous Madeline Kahn, who was nominated for a Tony and won a Drama Desk award for outstanding performance. The play was directed by Joseph Papp, and I do remember the staging as expansive.
Now the drama has been revived by the American Theatre of Actors in a very slim production that fails to substantiate what put Rabe’s play on the map in the first place. It is basically the story of Chrissy, a young woman who comes to Philadelphia with hope for a good life but is beset by problems stemming from misfortune as her life unravels.
Chrissy gets a job in a seedy joint dancing before ogling men, and proceeds to become involved in destructive relationships. One problem with this small-scale staging is that while Nina Kassa acts her heart out as Chrissy, one finds it difficult to sympathize with the character to the extent that one must to feel the power of Rabe’s vision. Despite her pitiful history of child abuse, when Chrissy flashes burst of anger and hysteria, her behavior as performed here fails to elicit sympathy for her.
We witness accumulative evidence of Chrissy progressing into breakdown, and yet when she finally succumbs to doing what she never wanted to do, dance bare breasted at a strip joint, the required impact is just not there in this revival directed by Greg Chicchino.
There are scenes that show the other women in the dance place in action, and there is an incident in which Chrissy is tempted by a lesbian proposal, which doesn’t go anywhere even after she decides she would be interested.
The men in the cast also act with gusto, but they are too over the top to make the play convincing. The revival, however well intentioned, doesn’t begin to do justice to Rabe’s work. One may leave wondering why the play was worth reviving. At the American Theatre of Actors, 314 West 54th Street. Reviewed April 28, 2017.