Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Aurora Theatre's 'Bob' takes joy ride through Americana

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 8:32 AM

WHATLL YOU HAVE? The nations waitresses love Bob (Dan Triandiflou)
America loves its huge, iconic national landmarks, from the Statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon to the Biggest Ball of Twine of Minnesota. One of the United States' defining locales isn't exactly a place, but the road itself, with its perpetual promise of better things just beyond the blue horizon. A strain of wanderlust unifies some of America's favorite stories about itself, both historical and otherwise, including Lewis & Clark and Thelma & Louise.

With Bob, playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb creates a modern folk hero (Dan Triandiflou) for American road culture, like a Johnny Appleseed for the turn of the 21st century. Subtitled A Life in Five Acts, Aurora Theatre's irresistible production taps that aspect of the American spirit that longs to answer the call of the open road. Like a slideshow of the most eventful and whimsical vacation imaginable, Bob captures its protagonist's rags-to-riches life thanks to five live-wire actors and Sean Daniels' effervescent direction.

Like a marquee from an old-school carnival midway, a giant "BOB" sign commands the stage and evokes the culture of roadside attractions. Bob's biological mother (Wendy Melkonian) gives birth to and promptly abandons him in a White Castle hamburger restaurant. A fast-food employee (Veronika Duerr) finds the infant and raises him while criss-crossing the country by car, so national museums and memorials become Bob's classrooms.

As a young man, Bob adapts the up-from-his-bootstraps ambition of a Horatio Alger character. When his mother dies at an early age, Bob fends for himself at the William Burroughs Memorial Rest Stop, which he turns into the finest in the nation. Inspired to change America for the better, he hitchhikes across the country, falls into bed with countless small-town waitresses, but never seems to make a difference. When his life goes wrong, he flat-out curses America, but will he remain sunk in bitterness or recover his idealism?

Triandiflou gives a charming, versatile performance as he spans Bob's entire life, from groggy, blanket-swaddled infant to lovelorn teenager to garrulous old man. Even so, the actor seems to truly come into his own when Bob goes bad and assumes a Vincent Price-like persona, tickled by his own malevolence. In addition to Duerr and Melkonian, Doyle Reynolds and Scott Warren round out the show's chorus, which takes on scores of characters, often in montage-like sequences. All of the actors in the chorus prove able to alternate between naturalistic people and goofy caricatures, including a dog and a fortune cookie.

Dad's Garage co-founder Sean Daniels directs probably his best locally produced show since moving from Atlanta, ensuring that Bob contains knockabout comedic invention while proving heartfelt every step of the way. Perhaps the most lovably goofy moments occur between the acts, when each actor demonstrates an emotion in the form of lighthearted performance art. Duerr, for instance, announces, "This is a dance about hope" and launches into an exuberantly dorky dance accompanied by an organ grinder-style rendition of one of John Williams' famous movie themes.

Nachtrieb's script achieves the trick of crafting wild coincidences that feel like signs of karmic connection and not the author's contrivance. While many classic American travel narratives, like Huckleberry Finn and On the Road, celebrate the journey as much as the goal, Bob's blend of urban legend and comedic Americana safely delivers its audience to a bittersweet but undeniably happy destination.

Bob. Through Feb. 10. Aurora Theatre, 128 E. Pike St., Lawrenceville. Wed, 8 p.m. (Jan. 30) and 10 a.m. (Feb. 6); Thu.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. $20-$30. 678-226-6222. www.auroratheatre.com

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