Arnie Louis and Bob: The Three Uncles You Must Get to Know!

12938286_1239559796058937_3773260448020312831_nI didn’t know what to expect from Trinity’s world premiere of Katie Pearl’s play Arnie Louis and Bob.  I knew it was based on her uncles and that three audience favorites were in it.  Armed with that knowledge, I assumed I would enjoy it.  And because I like to see this in print, I’ll put it out there — I was right!

Let’s start with what hits you first: Michael McGarty’s set.  It is massive in the Dowling Theatre, and a far cry from the beautiful simplicity of McGarty’s To Kill a Mockingbird set.  McGarty’s set welcomes you into the world of the three men like a fine can of wine.  (More about that later.)  At first you can only imagine the fun McGarty must have had scouring through thrift shops, but we quickly learn that the playwright herself supplied many of the authentic vintage items.  The set looks like a well-loved apartment chock full of special touches, from the notes on the refrigerator held by magnets and  photos of the playwright as a child, to the Quaker Oats can on top of the refrigerator. Pre-show music plays from what appears to be the same $20 CD player we keep in our garages.  The set is designed to be a no-frills apartment, but hours of labor must have gone into the creation of this “no frills.” (And the special touch of a brighter square of wall behind a picture when the picture is removed didn’t go unnoticed. Hats off to McGarty, I honestly feel that this may have been my favorite set of the season.

The show opens with three of Trinity’s finest: Stephen Berenson as Bob, Brian McEleney as Arnie, and Timothy Crowe as Louis. What an absolute treat for the audience. You immediately fall in love with Bob, played with such joy as he begins to talk about his Taylor Swift obsession. (More on that later!)  Within a few minutes of playful banter, we see that we are not only going to be watching this story of Pearl’s uncles, but Pearl’s story as well. She interrupts the play and becomes a surprise narrator of sorts … although a narrator who only follows what the characters want. I know this hasn’t worked for some people. I thought it was genius. In fact, as a writer I am kicking myself that I hadn’t thought of doing something like this before. As Pearl herself tells the audience, ”plays are interesting things.  They are stories” And truly that is what the night plays out to be — a story (which fits in so beautifully with their season).

And now, a bit about the performances. Really, where do I begin? Anyone who has long enjoyed Trinity Rep knows that these three are forces onstage.  Timothy Crowe’s performance as Louis, who is constantly fighting depression and unknowingly searching for hope, is an absolute delight to experience and something you just know you’re profoundly fortunate to witness in that intimate theater. Brian McEleney plays what you would call “the straight man” in the show — even-keeled, guru-following Arnie, whose spirituality has made him practical enough to make a sandwich while craziness goes on around him.  McEleney brings warmth to a role that in the hands of a lesser actor, would not shine as brightly as it did with McEleney.  Stephen Berenson plays his role, Bob, with such joy and hope that you want to get up and sing Taylor Swift (well almost Taylor Swift) with him.

However, the surprise of the night was Julia Atwood as Stagehand Julia. Not only because you don’t expect a stagehand to have such a prominent role in front of the audience, (because we all know that they are the unseen glue that holds together a theater) but her comedic chops were simply delightful.  Her growing enthusiasm for her role was catchy, “I walked all the way to CVS!” and she hands down had one of the greatest lines of the night; “I’m a stagehand.  It’s my job to make people fly!”  She is definitely one of those actresses about whom you will be able to say, “I remember when she was a student at Trinity!”  Bravo Ms. Atwood for not only holding your own with three remarkably talented actors, but for some of the greatest moments of the night.

I once had a professor say something about acting, how it is an actor unzipping their soul, and then inviting the audience to stomp on it, one by one.  I’m not sure where he got it from, but it returned to me during intermission.  If that is true, what the playwright does is near suicidal, especially for a play  this personal.  This isn’t just a “what if” exercise about her uncles, but an exercise about her own life choices.  She talks about art, her family, growing up … it was lovely, personal and a charming night of theater.

And now for the canned wine.  It was not only a quirky way to bring the play out into the lobby, but the vineyard donates 20% of sales back to the theater.  I did mention I would talk about Taylor Swift.  Taylor Swift plays a pretty prominent, yet unseen/unheard, part in this production.  Apparently she would not sell her rights to the show.  Which of course is her right, but T Swift, seeing that you and your girl squad frequently spend time enjoying our shores, time to enjoy our art!  Become a part of it!

Arnie Louis and Bob is a must see for anyone who wants to experience experimental theatre, and watch a story unfold.

Arnie Louis and Bob is playing until May 8th, in Trinity’s Dowling Theater.  Call 401-351-4242 for tickets, or order them online at trinityrep.com

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