Monday, October 20, 2014

Bob: A Life in Five Acts—theatrevertigo—SE Portland

Bobbing Along:  Going the Distance

This dark comedy is written by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb and directed by Matthew B. Zrebski.  It is playing at the Shoe Box Theatre space at 2110 SE 10th Ave. through November 15th.  For more information, go to their site at www.theatrevertigo.org

A funny thing happed on the way to my demise—I lived.  How many of us can say that?  Bob and his journey is a microcosm of the American endeavor.  He participates in his dances of Hardship, Love and Luck and, somewhere along those stages, finds himself (or selves), for we are a many-faceted creature.  But it is not the destination that is the focus, but the journey.

In Bob’s (Nathan Crosby) beginnings, he is cruelly thrust into the world on Valentine’s Day in the rest room of a White Castle restaurant.  His mother, Helen (Darcy Lynne), abandons him, so a waitress there, Jeanine (Holly Wigmore) raises him and begins to educate him immediately, by taking him on a road trip around the good ole USA.  It is not long before he calls rest stops his home and lives at one.

Here he meets his true love, Emilia (also, Wigmore) but it is destined to be short-lived as she has her own journey to make.  He eventually takes to the rails and meets in a boxcar, a hobo, Gunther (Tom Mounsey), who takes him under his wing.  But, before long, this encounter too is cut short by some unfortunate circumstances and Bob is again exploring the world with virgin eyes.

Finally, down on his luck, he gambles his last dollars at a casino and wins, finally becoming a rich man.  He has a drool butler, Tony (Nathan Dunkin), who attempts to inspire him with some purpose to his existence but to no avail.  Bob’s big dream is to have his name etched in the memories of people, but when he gets that, he finds himself alone.  But, like all good fables, redemption is just around the corner and…but that would be telling, wouldn’t it?  You’ll have to discover for yourselves.

On the surface, this sounds like a pretty conventional rags-to-riches story.  But, like Bob’s journey, it is not what is obvious that makes it unique, it is what is behind the masks.  And, like Dorothy’s journey to Oz, she may, in the end, recognize some simple truths, that were present all along, but she had to go over the rainbow before she discovered them.  Again, the journey is the key.

Nachtrieb’s script may seem odd at first glance, but like all good stories, there are many layers underneath.  And Zrebski has managed to find all the nuances this tale holds.  Except for a few props, he has wisely chosen to leave the stage bare and let the actors be the map of his travels.  And his cast is quite exceptional.

All the actors mentioned above, except Bob, play all the various characters that appear in Bob’s surreal world.  This Chorus of voices are essential to a successful telling of the tale.  All their incarnations are very distinct.  I especially liked Wigmore’s Emilia, his lost love, and as Janine, his surrogate mother.  She is very appealing as both.  Lynne’s portrayal of his mother, Helen, delivers a complex character that is both scary and touching and her Bonnie, Helen’s friend, is a hoot.  Also, a small bit as an abused, kidnapped child is chilling.  Both terrific in their many guises.

Mounsey is great as Gunther, the hobo, a complex man with his own story to tell.  And his Leo at the end is a direct contrast to that.  Well done.  Dunkin is always good in whatever shows he does and I especially liked his Tony, the butler, a wise man who sees the good in Bob.  And Crosby, as Bob, is amazing.  He goes through as many transformations as does the Chorus and is riveting and believable in his evolution.  This is an actor to be watched, as this is a top-notch performance!

We are not alone, as you will discover through the course of this personal journey. And we do have an effect on others, so all life is precious.  We are all part of each others’ stories so tread softly before you judge, as a larger story is unfolding.  That is my take-away from this, yours may be different and equally valuable.

I recommend this show but it does have some brief nudity and is adult in its subject matter.  If you do choose to go, please tell them that Dennis sent you.