The title is a promise. Azuka Theatre Company’s Bob: A Life in Five Acts, running through March 17 at the Proscenium Theatre at The Drake, delivers the story of Bob, from his birth to the end, in five distinct movements. We travel with him, we park with him, we grow with him, we stagnate with him. In Peter Sinn Nachrieb’s script, with direction by Michael Osinski, we are invited to learn many lessons through Bob’s journey, much as one would if they were watching our story, but Bob’s life is far from typical.
Born and immediately abandoned in a White Castle bathroom, Bob (Paul Harrold) is raised by a cashier, Janine (Sabriaya Shipley), who introduces him to America in all her glory, but dies when he is 12, leaving him to fend for himself. He winds up making a home in a Missouri rest stop for years (and who among us hasn’t wanted to do that?), meeting passersby and even falling in love before moving on with his life. His adopted mother raised him to believe that he would be a “great, great man,” which, to young Bob, meant two things: a plaque, and his bust carved in granite. As he ages, this definition doesn’t change, and even as he compiles a list of things he wants to accomplish, those two goals serve as the pinnacle of greatness.
The other four actors, billed as the “chorus,” play a myriad of roles. Not only do they narrate the story from a distance, but they intersect every signpost of Bob’s life. His birth mother (Claris Park), Janine’s friend (also Park), a police officer from his home town (Frank Jimenez), a circus animal trainer (Dan D’albis) and others have their own dreams and their own stories, but also impact Bob at several times in several ways. Their dreams, too, are interwoven.
Bob is a part of Azuka’s “New Professionals” series, which spotlights the talents of rising Philadelphia actors. The chorus moves among their several characters seamlessly yet distinguishingly. The penultimate montage scene, where each character reminisces Bob, won’t work if the audience doesn’t recognize the subtleties that define them. And Harrold is Bob, the proto-masculine winner-take-all, yet relatable, everyman; this performance should land him future leading roles. Comparisons to Tom Hanks come to mind, but that could also be because the story is reminiscent of Forrest Gump and The Terminal.
In any two-hour play, there are bound to be some missteps, and in Bob they come in the third act where Bob meets a collection of waitresses. These characters come off as amalgamated, counter to the distinct personalities of the others. Where most of the rest of the story progresses in a linear and narrative fashion, this dreamlike scene severs the flow. Also, there is a motif of characters wishing Bob “good luck” which runs its course perhaps earlier than the writer intended.
In the end, Bob: A Life in Five Acts succeeds in its goals. It’s a comedy; you will laugh. Azuka’s production highlights upcoming actors; they’re darn good and you will see them again. It doesn’t work if you don’t like and care about Bob; you will like and care about Bob. Even though Bob lives a nomadic and isolated existence, he doesn’t get from point to point without help, and that’s the lesson: no matter how alone we think we are, we are not alone.
Azuka Theatre Company continues its “pay what you decide” model. For reservations and additional information: http://www.azukatheatre.org/bob-a-life-in-five-acts