Los Angeles Theater Review: BOB: A LIFE IN FIVE ACTS (Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theater)

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by Tony Frankel on June 11, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

BOBBING FOR APPLES

Perusing a Peanuts anthology recently, I found my mind beginning to wander after about 15 panels. Regardless of Schultz’ insightful social commentary and universal truths – as seen through the eyes of elementary school children – his Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema LA review of Echo Theater Company's "Bob."comic strips were meant to be seen one at a time. No matter how clever and perceptive, there is an inherent monotony in a string of short ponderings.

Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s cartoon adventure tale, BOB: A Life in Five Acts, suffers from the same fate. As with Schultz, Nachtrieb explores and lampoons the American definition of success, and his musings can be equally funny and astute. Echo Theater Company’s production of BOB begins with a bang, but eventually becomes mired by the script’s concept (the same can be said of hundreds of new plays in the last few years).

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema LA review of Echo Theater Company's "Bob."We are on board immediately with the lunacy and absurdism as Bob’s life begins when the newborn is abandoned in the bathroom stall of a White Castle by Helen, his mother who simply has other things to do with her life. After she scissor-snips the umbilical cord and flees, a female White Castle employee steals the baby and takes him on a cross-country road trip for 12 years. Bob loves his life and develops an infectious sense of positivity and a true ardor to do something great with his life.

Then, during the first of five “acts” (there is an intermission after the third), his fast food mom suddenly dies at a rest stop, leaving Bob to go it alone. A multitude of characters played by four “chorus” dart in and out of Bob’s life, and he suffers a series of hardships, becoming a wealthy but bitter man. The opaque ending, some kind of man-in-the-mirror, greatness-lies-within message, completely eluded me.

BOB is a mash-up of Nicholas Nickleby, Peanuts, Jules Feiffer, and the National Lampoon Vacation flicks, but it ends up being a series of events waiting for something to happen. Bob doesn’t grow or develop. Similar to Charlie Brown, he just reacts to the events in his life, sometimes with bold optimism and sometimes with Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema LA review of Echo Theater Company's "Bob."cynical pessimism. And when the story veers from Bob, such as a side tale about his real father and an animal act, we couldn’t care less. The whole shebang is a rabbit hole to nowhere.

There is no problem with the actors, as is always the case with Echo Theater Company (except for the charming Jeff Galfer as Bob, the roles are double-cast). Alana Dietze, Ahmed Best, Jacqueline Wright and Jud Williford play Nachtrieb’s zany, sometimes delightful creations. So likeable and eminently watchable is Dietze as the adoptive mother and Bob’s sole love interest that it’s maddening her characters just come and go like Alice in Wonderland. Wright perfectly inhabits a kooky, hyperactive, Christian girl scout in one scene, but then portrays a simple world-weariness as Bob’s birth mother. Any underdeveloped characterizations are courtesy of Chris Field’s one-note, uncontained direction that refuses to allow moments to settle, enhancing rather than detracting from the monotony of the script.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema LA review of Echo Theater Company's "Bob."To complicate matters, the extraordinarily wide stage has on both sides the detritus of American consumption (set by Angel Hererra), but the mounds of multi-colored cartons are not utilized and merely serve as some kind of metaphorical decoration. Drew Dalzell’s delightful sound design includes enjoyable 1950s upbeat industrial commercial music.

Speaking of music, it can be said that BOB, if anything, feels like it would be better-suited as a musical. The ennui which I experienced during BOB is the same that I had gazing over the Peanuts panels. When Schultz’ four-panel gag strips were adapted with a story line (A Charlie Brown Christmas) or with songs (You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown), it vaporized the tedium. As it stands, BOB is simply a road trip to nowhere.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema LA review of Echo Theater Company's "Bob."photos by Megan J. Carroll

BTony Frankel's Stage and Cinema LA review of Echo Theater Company's "Bob."OB: A Life in Five Acts
Echo Theater Company
Atwater Village Theater, 3269 Casitas Ave.
scheduled to end on June 30, 2013
for tickets, call 877.369.9112
or visit http://www.EchoTheaterCompany.com

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