2Cents Theatre has taken on David Rabe's seldom-revived early play "In the Boom Boom Room" (1972), the trippy, choleric story of a Philadelphia woman’s degradation.
The play can’t exactly be considered a cautionary tale, since even 40 years ago, nobody needed cautioning against the poor choices made by dimwitted Chrissy (Kate Bowman): working as a go-go dancer, getting into astrology, marrying a thug. Rabe piles hardships onto poor Chrissy to prove a point about women's limited options in a world that values them only for their bodies.
But at least here, under the direction of Kristen Boulé, this point is made in the first scene, only to be reiterated for the next several hours in an alternately leaden and shrill tone and a diverse range of interpretations of the Philadelphia accent.
Rabe wrote this tricky patois into the script, so dialect coach Richard Tatum has instructed the cast in its distinctive phonemes, and they work very hard at them. The florid pronunciations of Cris D'Annunzio, as Chrissy's father, are the most arresting aspect of his performance. Syllable by syllable, each actor may well be speaking authentic Philadelphian, but strung together all the accents become inconsistent, hard to understand and silly. The irony of their struggle is that the music (credited to Boulé) regularly drowns them out anyway.
It is still fun to meet the characters who get in line to exploit, corrupt and debase Chrissy: besides the father who molested her, there's her lovelorn stalker, Eric (Corby Sullivan); her preening gay neighbor Guy (K.C. Lindley); her racist boyfriend, Al (Eric Geller), who seduces her by breaking into her apartment with his menacing sidekick, Ralphie (Juan Lozano); her cold mother (Theresa Tilly), who admits to trying to abort her; her confidante, Susan (Kristina Miller), who ignores her and then, out of nowhere, comes on to her. But their unrelenting awfulness gets boring fast; not even Chrissy seems to enjoy their company, and soon she’s actively competing to be the least likable of them all.
This may be Rabe's point, but the drama could be more engaging if these roles were played with a glimmer of sympathy, or if the actors occasionally made eye contact. Instead, Boulé usually positions Chrissy with her back to others, staring into space with a baffled expression. Or else sends her clambering awkwardly up and down the levels of Tom Buderwitz's strange, orange set, avoiding, for some reason, the stairs.
Lauren Joy Goss' costumes and the sad, unsexy go-go choreography by Alli Miller and Sarah Haworth effectively capture a seedy era, allowing the audience, if nothing else, the relief of being done with it a second time.
"In the Boom Boom Room," Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends August 3. $25. (323) 960-7785 or www.2centstheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.