Bob Happens

bobarmPeter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Bob is almost impossible to summarize in any linear way, even though the storyline is more or less chronological. Consider a play set in the following location: “All over the United States of America, interiors and exteriors. Plus one scene in Mexico. The play often changes rapidly from location to location and the shifts are quick. The speed of the changes is important and part of the ride of the play.” The playwright goes on to add: “My hunch is that the stagecraft in the play is exposed for being what it is,” and CTC, in familiar style, has embraced the mission.

Director Ryan Hartigan is once again at the helm for a must-see CTC production. Hartigan also gets Artistic Director Chris Simpson to make a rare appearance onstage as a member of a flexible and talented cast that launches into a kaleidoscopic array of characters and situations, all of them centering on a boy-man named Bob. Bob is a road trip/coming of age tale centered on a baby born on the bathroom floor of a White Castle whose search for self-awareness and Greatness is blown into proportions both mythic and mundane – Pippin meets National Lampoon’s Vacation. To call out any one performance here is to detract from the superb ensemble work as each actor gets a chance to portray the titular Bob at some point (a choice made by CTC, not the author, which actually strengthens the arc of the storyline rather than confusing us, which could have been the case). The overall effect is not unlike watching The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged, with additional turn-on-a-dime costume changes and musical interludes. Composer Matt Requintina adds a knowing wink (and a Captain and Tennille reference) to the Radiohead-like underscoring and inter-act “dance” pieces.

These charming breaks divide chapters in the story that span the life of Bob, who meets several people in his crash course tour of the country, experiencing bouts of synchronicity that would be far-fetched if they weren’t so true. In finding out who he is, we find out more about who we are. If we do nothing else with our lives, can we at least say that we have a vision? Is greatness getting your name on a plaque somewhere, or is it simply having an effect on every person we come across? If the latter is true, then we all can be great, for Bob’s quest is ultimately a hero’s journey, but not the one we, or he, expects.

If all of the above sounds disjointed, fragmentary, yet awesomely compelling, then you’ve got a feel for what Bob is like. This is no polished mainstage event, but a ramshackle series of vignettes expertly delivered at a breakneck pace with all of the wires showing. Nowhere on any stage in Rhode Island at the moment will you ponder your role in history while appreciating several moments of mock urination and more than a few tender episodes of transvestitism. Meg Perry’s set design is childlike, yet menacing, featuring murals that somehow manage to tell the story of America (if that story were found inside the gatefold of a 70s concept album) and the fact that there is a credited “Circus Engineer” should let you in on a few more of Bob’s delights.

It is said of our hero that “America does not deserve Bob,” but we certainly do. CTC has created another flawed masterpiece and they certainly deserve to have this small piece of America take notice.

The Contemporary Theater Company presents Bob Aug. 16, 17, 23, 24, 30, 31, Sept. 1, 5, 6, 7 at 7 p.m. 327 Main Street Wakefield, RI 02879. For tickets, visit http://www.thecontemporarytheater.com/boxoffice or call 401.218.0282.

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