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Bob: A Life in Five Acts at Main Stage West, Sebastopol CA

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Bob: A Life in Five Acts at Main Stage West, Sebastopol CA

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo , Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (BATCC)

The Fortune-Cookie Life of “Bob”

The setting is unclear. One observer suggested it may be in Purgatory. Another, Heaven. Still others think it takes place in the imaginations of the characters, or maybe the audience. Any or all of these are probably true. One thing is certain: “Bob: A Life in Five Acts”, presented at Main Stage West, is one of the smartest, funniest and most bizarrely stylized bits of theatre ever presented in these parts.

The life story of Bob, as the title suggests, unfolds over five short “acts” in two parts. It starts with his birth and abandonment on a bathroom floor, moves forward with his oddball, rags-to-riches odyssey across the US, and comes full circle at the end. Everyone he encounters along the way seems inspired to tell him “Good luck”. He certainly needs it - no parents, no home, no education, no job. What he does have is an unflinching belief that he's destined for greatness. Exactly what that entails is up for vigorous debate.

“Bob” asks important questions, but leaves the answers up to the audience: What makes a great man? What is the purpose of a life? How do you know when you're successful, or even if there is such a thing? Does achievement mean having your face carved on Mount Rushmore, or your name on a plaque? Do fortune cookies tell the truth?

Nick Sholley, Mark Bradbury, Gina Alvarado, Laura Levin

Mark Bradbury, in the title role, continues his run of outstanding comic interpretations of complex roles. He is supported by a zany group of four brilliant actors who form a kind of frenzied Greek Chorus: Nick Sholley, Gina Alvarado, Sam Coughlin and Laura Levin. The pace is relentless, breathless. Each member of the Chorus plays a whirlwind of multiple characters, creates convincing sound effects and offers commentary, ranging from snarky to sincere, on what's happening onstage. Sometimes they bound into the audience, or run up and down the center aisle. Each one also performs a uniquely hilarious interpretive dance after each act. With very few props, the actors create a moving, living landscape with only their imaginations, gestures, voices and facial expressions.

(On platform) Laura Levin, Sam Coughlin, Gina Alvarado, Nick Sholley (forground) Mark BradburyThe spartan set, created by noted local designer Paul Gilger and built by David Lear, is amazingly versatile and beautifully done. A blue sky with wispy clouds is seen on smooth wall panels; a small central platform, just like the actors, is whatever it needs to be: a table, an old jalopy, a boxcar, a rest stop, a White Castle restaurant. Superb image projections and lighting by Wayne Hovey drive the story along.

MSW has become the North Bay vortex of exceptional theatre, which requires enormous risk and imagination. Director Sheri Miller, winner of many BATCC awards, has crafted great humor and pathos in this very challenging rollercoaster of a show. More than usual, Miller found that this production needs extensive collaboration with her actors, with a lot of improv discoveries, high-level comic timing and adept staging.

San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb is known for unconventional works like “Trenchcoat In Common (TIC)”, a dark comedy presented at MSW a couple of years ago and directed by Miller. In writing “Bob: A Life in Five Acts”, Nachtrieb draws from provacative experimental and environmental theatre techniques that arose during the New Theatre movement of the 1960s.

According to Miller, “”Bob” was a super difficult show, but I had an amazing and exceptionally creative cast. This show was very different for me, in that the cast was very actively involved in the development of our production from the ground up. Every single day they came into rehearsal with joy, creativity and energy. As did I.” And it shows.

Now through May 22, 2016

8:00 p.m. Thursdays
8:00 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays
5:00 p.m. Sundays

Tickets $15 to $25

Main Stage West
104 North Main Street, Sebastopol, CA 95472

(707) 823-0177

Photos courtesy of Main Stage West

Suzanne and Greg Angeo , Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (BATCC)