Stylish and ambitious, but Boom X misses its mark in effort to dive deep into generation X
X doesn’t hit the spot in master impressionist Rick Miller’s latest solo show, focused on slacker generation
"Disaffected and directionless."
These are the words, writer/performer Rick Miller tells us early in his show Boom X, that are used to define the post-baby-boom generation X.
So perhaps there's something metatheatrical in the fact that his multimedia show, while ambitious and stylish, also ultimately feels a bit directionless.
It makes a game effort to dive deep into the slacker generation, but feels like it's stymied by the challenge of defining a generation that has neither the world-changing power of the baby boomers nor the sheer force of will that seems to define millennials.
The show, which premiered earlier this year in Calgary, is a followup to Miller's Boom, which explored the boomer generation and ran — as Boom X does now — a few years back at the Royal MTC Mainstage. (And yes, Miller says Boom X is the middle of a trilogy, so stay tuned for the millennials.)
As in the earlier piece, Miller structures Boom X around a group of generational representatives — here, they're Howard, a baseball-loving academic from Winnipeg; East German immigrant Annika; Steph, who hails from small-town Ontario; and Brandon, born in the early '80s and raised by free-spirited parents.
Miller takes on the persona of each character as they relate fragments from their life stories, moving chronologically through the period of the X generation's formative years — 1969 to 1995.
In his visually spectacular production, Miller intersperses their monologues with snippets of video from each era, projected onto the angled translucent screens that dominate the stage.
There are also reflections from his own gen X life, and fragments of many, many era-defining songs — everything from the Guess Who to U2 to Public Enemy.
Throughout it all — fittingly for a show set during the rise of cable news networks — a scroll of factoids about each year runs along the bottom of the screen, providing a running reminder of each year's highlights.
If it all sounds like a nostalgia trip, it is. For anyone over 30, Boom X provides a lot of warm, and not so warm, moments of "I remember that" recognition.
It's given legs by Miller's almost superhumanly energetic performance and his impressive vocal talents, both as a singer and an impressionist.
Miller rose to fame (and may still best be remembered here) for playing the entire Simpsons cast in MacHomer, his Shakespeare/Simpsons mash-up. He displays that chameleonic ability to great effect here too, nailing impressions of everyone from Pierre Trudeau to John Lennon to Kermit the Frog.
So Boom X has style to spare — but struggles to find substance, rarely moving beyond its sense of nostalgia. Miller makes an effort late in the 130-minute (with intermission) show to tie everything neatly together, but it's too little and too late.
It's also odd that, given that Miller is himself an Xer, the show feels curiously impersonal. He sometimes flirts with a deeper examination of his own life, but seems to pull back from those fleeting moments.
Miller is a force onstage as a performer, and Boom X is an admirable attempt to shine a light on this forgotten generation.
But in the end — and again, perhaps fittingly for a show about a generation often defined as cynical slackers — it lands with more of a shrug than a boom.
Boom X is produced by Kidoons and Wyrd Productions, in association with Theatre Calgary and the 20K Collecitve. It runs at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's John Hirsch Mainstage until April 13.