It All Started (& Ended) With a BOOM
At the top of the show, the audience was asked to participate in a quick census by clapping to indicate which generation we belonged to. First, the “Baby Boomers” were called—raucous clapping filled the traditional theatre space as almost everyone around us slapped their hands together.
I was surrounded.
“Generation X” was called, to which the response was silence. After which the call for “Millennials” was met with an embarrassed half-clap. To everyone’s surprise, when the “Gen Z” prompt finally arrived my partner and I clapped loud and proud from row F, centre auditorium. They paused and asked if we were being accompanied by our grandparents.
“No, just us!” I shouted back.
And it really was just us—two 23-year-olds removed by approximately 34 years from every other audience member (bar the meek Millennial), watching a play about the culture and events that shaped the baby boomer generation, THEIR generation.
BOOM is a multimedia production, a musically-charged collage of stories written, directed, and performed by Rick Miller. BOOM explored three distinct narratives that were weaved together alongside a quirky mix of skits, videos, and music that contextualized the sociopolitical climate of America and Canada from 1945 to 1969. The show progressed year by year, creating a concise archive of Western pop culture whilst telling the stories of Laurence, Maddie, and Rudi, three young people from varied backgrounds, imparting their wisdom and positionality relative to the events that transpired during those formative years. I caught the show at Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, one of the principal locations of the piece and on the day of Rick Miller’s 50th birthday.
BOOM is in the Details
The conceptually ambitious one-man show was set on a traditional stage with a thin sheet of fabric stretched floor-to-ceiling to create a centre-stage column that hid all his musical instruments, wardrobe, and props. A near constant stream of graphics were projected onto the fabric and an intricate lighting setup served to add dramatic flairs and delineate each scene (of which there were many; the man did not shy away from transitions!). At the 403rd run of this international success, the technical elements were polished to near-perfection.
It’s almost like the Wizard of Oz, except instead of just one small man pretending to be a grandiose wizard, it’s one man with near-superstar energy role-playing three boomers, as well as an impressive docket of generation-defining musicians and politicians. Miller spent half of the show behind the sheet of fabric, his form either obscured or presenting a silhouette, bringing life to the characters he voiced.
At one edge-of-your-seat moment, his hidden body was hit by two lights, creating two silhouettes simultaneously, one cowering on the fabric and the other hulking figure on the far left wall. Each shadow represented a different character, their physicality obviously juxtaposed and displaying the tension of the scene despite both images coming from the same body. This was one of many moments that evidenced Miller’s versatility, and the ingenuity of BOOM.
Miller observably put a huge amount of work into the show. Aside from his dedication to historical accuracy, he’s also dedicated to respectfully presenting the real narratives and experience of Laurence, Maddie, and Rudi. It’s clear that the three were consulted thoroughly, and that Miller’s voice relays their truths, with their own words. That accuracy could be attributed to the fact that Maddie and Rudi are Rick Miller’s parents, and that Laurence was a past lover of his mom’s as well. Subsequently, the audience is on the receiving end of three unique perspectives for every significant event of the show. It’s a cute reveal, as the dots slowly connect and you realize the distinct narratives of each character are slowly converging, thereby making the overarching narrative not just the culture of baby boomers, but also a story of young love.
BOOM for Thought
I enjoyed myself a lot more than I thought I would. I appreciated the perspective that was presented to me, which wasn’t an outlandish one. It fits into what I understand of the development of the Western zeitgeist. BOOM accurately represented aspects of the West’s arduous development following the end of World War II. At least, the picture that the play painted, the understanding of those times that it was working to impart, felt legitimate to me.
Political discourses are so often ahistorical, lending to understandings and beliefs that don’t consider relevant context and important facts. The way art is normally consumed similarly leaves little space for critical analysis. We digest narratives and stories that have been sanitized, simplified, and secluded from the context that could empower those narratives to be effective communicators of their messages and ideas. Miller was successful in his goal of creating an entertaining piece that imparts perspective, presenting the past in a way that maintained its ability to teach us.
Conversely, BOOM showed us how 1945-1969 played out for Westerners. For the imperialists. For the winners of the second world war. Miller plays with this reality, displaying the cheery living of the victors and their state—an imperialist superpower that committed some of the worst atrocities known to mankind when it dropped two atomic bombs on Japan and continuously committed to disingenuous interventionism across the globe. These were the stories of youths that lived on the side of the only country to ever nuke another. A lot of ugly stuff was touched on: Cold War capitalist propaganda, McCarthyism, the assassinations of JFK and MLK, and the Vietnam War. Throughout it all, Miller makes cheeky comments regarding contemporary parallels, hitting home the concept of cyclical history.
It gets dark, and rightfully so given the West’s abhorrent history. But that villainization only goes so far. At the end of the day, can one person really bear the weight of the sins of their country? How much power did the boomers really have? How much could they have done? How much can we now? How different is our collective approach to theirs?
America’s still slaughtering people across the world for resources and control with nearly 800 U.S. military bases abroad in over 70 countries. Canada is making billions of dollars selling weapons to Saudi Arabia so it can continue to make Yemen a hellscape. How COVID was and continues to be handled on the international stage is an undeniable example of the injustices of our time that can be understood better if the historical context of colonialism and its legacy are properly considered.
The show presents a trap to its young viewers. It’s easy to wallow in one’s disdain for their country’s history when that disdain is vindicated by the hindsight of elders. But the reality is, reflecting on the complicity of the boomers should be a brutal task for youth in the West as it demands acknowledging our own complicity as well. It’s not wrong to analyze the shittiness of the cards we were dealt, but does it really matter if we play those cards the same way as the people that handed them to us did?
Maybe it’s time to break that cycle. Maybe that’s just something young people keep saying.
I’m glad that there exists art that pushes its audience to reflect on such things, and we could always make use of more perspective. So thank you Rick Miller and Capitol Theatre, for putting on a great show and one that is exceptionally relevant to all of us right now.