What about Bob?
Sacramento, CA 95814
This curious new play at the B Street Theatre is a lot of things—often more than one at a time. It’s a comedy, for starters, about a baby, born—and abandoned—in a White Castle burger joint. The opening scenes, with actor Peter Story (as Bob) decked out in a blue jumpsuit like a baby the size of a sumo wrestler, crawling down the aisle through the audience on all fours, cooing and burbling, are a crack-up.
But in addition to being a comedy, Bob is several other things. As playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb puts it, Bob is “epic, cinematic, a whirlwind, a ride.” It’s a fable about a crazy quest across America, including visits to Mount Rushmore, lingering stays in the bushes at freeway rest areas, a visit to a Las Vegas casino and a ride in a boxcar on a freight train. It’s also a myth, involving encounters with fearsome animals. Bob eventually meets his long-lost birth parents. There are also one or two funeral pyres along the way. Could it be significant that this production is scheduled to close on (ahem) September 11, 2011? Anything is possible in this show.
Nachtrieb (whose Boom was previously staged at B Street, and whose Hunter Gatherers was done at Capital Stage) has also structured Bob with a chorus like the ones in ancient Greek plays (yes, Nachtrieb specifies “chorus” in the script), and these four actors often tell us in advance what’s about to come down, adding to the mythic effect. Hardworking chorus members Michael Stevenson, John Lamb, Lyndsy Kail and Kristine David also each play multiple characters whose lives collide with Bob’s during his singular journey through life.
If you stop to think about it, Bob also resembles a late Shakespeare romance like The Winter’s Tale, with million-to-one chance encounters under the most unlikely circumstances that lead to unexpected reunions between long-separated family members. And there are also weird interventions by nature and wild animals. As you may recall, there’s a character in The Winter’s Tale who goes walking in a forest and is eaten by a wild bear, and there’s an episode in Bob that emulates that Shakespeare scene. In addition, Nachtrieb has the chorus announce each of this play’s five acts, reinforcing the structural resemblance to a Shakespeare script.
But, of course, Bob is quintessentially American, and Bob has strong elements of satire with a smirk, and Bob likes to tickle your funny bone with lots of corny high-speed theatrics (actors dressed as animals, etc.) while actor Story ponders what it means to achieve something “great” in life. Story plays Bob from mewling newborn to a grizzled old man in the Mexican desert (with long hair and a beard, à la ZZ Top), with several interesting phases in between. It’s a very interesting character who leads an exceedingly unconventional life, and yet somehow manages to seem like an Everyman as well.
Director Jerry Montoya does a good job organizing the constantly shifting props, costumes and characters changes (including a few who pop up again suddenly after a long absence) that are part of the kaleidoscopic cavalcade of cosmic craziness. Paulette Sand-Gilbert surely had some fun with the various outlandish costumes.