|Two Bob. Photo courtesy CTC/Seth Jacobson.|
Saturday was the closing night of the Contemporary Theater Company's production of "Bob," Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's absurd existential comedy, and if you're not nodding and smiling at the memory, you missed one hell of a show.
The CTC always seems to pick ideal shows for their cozy space in Wakefield -- and for the well-honed talents of their regular players -- and "Bob" was no exception. A backdrop, a handful of props, a few well-chosen bits of costume, and the audience is whisked from birth in a White Castle bathroom (a balloon and a squeeze bottle of water) through a cremation on the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago, a love nest at the William Burroughs memorial rest stop, yearning at Mount Rushmore, bad breakfast at every diner in the Midwest, Der Ringtraum with animal trainers under the big top, boozy connections in a whistling hobo boxcar, a nose full of brush cymbal in a San Simeon-style casino-turned-mansion, and wise twilight years in a flea circus in Mexico. Along the way, we learn much about the central character of Bob, a naif in whose apparent random walk lies the secret, coded heart of America. (Think Candide or Celebration -- or, well, Pippin with a better second act...)
Director Ryan Hartigan has made bold, theatrical choices, including a multiple casting that cycles the five members of the company through the role of Bob in the course of the show, and has coached pitch-perfect performances in every scene. The program note about the decision says it all: "We like to hunt as a pack and work as a company." In addition to their turns as Bob, the players also serve as a chorus, surfacing as needed as Bob's foils (mother, father, lover, butler, cop, lion tamer, Girl Scout, seeker) and they do it with the exuberance and grace of a well-oiled improv troupe.
James Foley plays the dewey-eyed baby Bob with openness and wonder, Amelia Giles brings authenticity and heartbreak to the teen, Christopher Simpson bravely fights the Weltshmerz of well-traveled middle age, Rico Lanni takes us from hope to heartbreak and back, and Tammy Brown offers the solace and wisdom of years. And no review would be complete without mention of the "Sixth Man," Matt Requintina, who provides absolutely spot-on incidental music. That he makes it seem effortless shows amazing skill: this is a much harder task than playing accompaniment for a musical; it requires the preternatural sensitivity of a jazz musician to the heart of the moment.
The cast and crew of the CTC deserve the fine notices they received in the Providence Phoenix and Newport Mercury. Hartigan and crew have captured the essence of Nachtrieb's picaresque, compressed palimpsest of the American Dream. As the folks over at the Church of the Subgenius like to say, "Bob is. Bob becomes. Bob is not."
And next in the pipeline is the CTC's first full-scale musical, Stephen Sondheim's Assassins. To help defray the costs of this major production while keeping ticket prices reasonable, they've launched an indiegogo campaign to raise $3,500.
If you know the show, you'll know why I'm excited. If you don't: it's a musical tour through the minds of America's Presidential assassins and wannabes. This is powerful, vintage Sondheim, and it delivers his unparalleled lyrical sensibilities and penetrating character insights in a package that's stripped down and minimalist, machined like a snub-nosed .38.
Right in the CTC's wheelhouse, and I literally can't wait to see what they do with it.
Full disclosure: After wrapping this review, I intend to contribute to the CTC's funding campaign. I hope you'll join me.