boundaries, daring his audience to surrender its expectations. He likes happy endings, but he also likes to subvert them and stand them on their heads.
In many ways ‘BOB: A Life in Five Acts’ is the quintessential Peter Sinn-Nachtrieb play, combining all of the idiosyncrasies and struggles and odd artistic impulses we’ve come to expect from one of his stories.
And in the currently running production of ‘BOB’ at Main Stage West, in Sebastopol, all of these wildly consorting contradictions are given the perfect playground on which to cavort and cartwheel and freely express themselves.
A bit of a dream project for director Sheri Lee Miller, ‘BOB’ is, in many ways, the perfect undertaking for her particular talents, requiring a high degree of artistic collaboration with her cast (one of Miller’s strong suits), while also demanding a strong artistic eye. Miller accomplishes this, allowing the whole mechanism to feel as if it might go off the rails at any minute, brilliantly enhancing the sense of dangerous improvisation that is etched into the script.
In other words, ‘BOB’ is a wild ride.
Born in the restroom of a White Castle in the American South, Bob — played from birth to old age by Mark Bradbury — is promptly abandoned by his mother, then unofficially adopted by a waitress at the restaurant. In the first of five eventful acts, Bob names himself, travels to country with his adopted mom, grows into adolescence, learns a pop-cultural encyclopedia of random historical and sociological facts, and sets his sights on the goal that will determine the course of his life: to somehow become a “great man.” As Bob grows up, essentially homeless, but driven by an optimism so pure it can be tasted in his kisses, he encounters and reencounters a bizarre parade of American stereotypes—good, bad, and otherwise.
Bob’s epic, cross-country, decade-hopping life story is illustrated and narrated by a chorus of actors played with jaw-dropping elasticity by Laura Levin, Gina Alvarado, Sam Coughlin and Nick Sholley. Frequently beginning with the line, “It is said, that . . .” the storytellers work wonders, together and apart, roaming the pleasingly spare blank-canvass of a stage as they change voices, postures and costumes to become the numerous outrageous characters—and a number of animals and inanimate objects as well—whom Bob encounters as he pursues his dream, suffers a broken heart, loses his way, and finds it again in the most unexpected of places.
Between each act, one member of the chorus performs a dance, exploring different themes such as hardship, hope, love, and luck.
To reveal more would be to spoil an array of offbeat surprises.
There is, to say the least, a lot going on in ‘BOB,’ much of which rests on the shoulders of Bradbury, who perfectly embodies the character’s boyish openness. Not everything in Nachtrieb’s ambitious script works, and though it happens rarely, some of the cast’s choices seem to treat certain revelations as punchlines rather than life-altering discoveries.
But on the whole, ‘Bob’ is a thing of loose-limbed wonder and beauty, a wacky journey across a surreal landscape that will leave you with plenty to ponder and respond to, long after Bob finally learns what it really means to be great.
Bob: A Life in Five Acts, runs Thursday-Sunday through May 22 at Main Stage West. www.mainstagewest.com.