HIGH ANXIETY Pasquale.
BOB: Blessed Be the Dysfunction That Binds is about Anne Pasquale’s experiences growing up with a “special needs person” with schizophrenic tendencies, a balancing act of love and trepidation. Bob, you see, could be violent.
Witnessing this baptism of fire may not be as intense an experience as it is for Pasquale, who wrote and performs it, but audiences do leave singed. There is humor in the one-woman performance, directed by Mary Ann Hay, at the Artists’ Exchange through June 30, but we are likely to leave shaking our heads with sympathy, not laughter.
Pasquale performs the numerous characters, and when she climbs into Bob’s skin at the very beginning, we see him in his default mode: leaning forward a bit, his raised hands trembling, happy but nervously biting the side of a hand.
Next to a center stage folding screen, behind which some violent moments occur in silhouette, there’s a coat rack with several hats. An anger-red bill cap belongs to their father — we know where Bob modeled his furious temper. And as the father would find some excuse to leave the house when Bob got difficult, in one characterizing example, their in-denial mother would take to the couch, escaping into a little lie down time.
There was nowhere for little Anne Marie to escape. Early on she tells us she dreamed of flying away with a pigeon head that changes to Bob’s.
Her older brother would slap his head, or someone else’s, if he didn’t get what he wanted, and he grew big enough to usually get what he wanted. By age 18 he was a hulking 250 pounds, so his slap was no love tap. And anything could send him into a rage, even their father eating the last meatball.
Anne Marie was 15 then and 165 pounds from stress-craving candy, obsessively singing “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” a patriotic hit from 1966 (“Fighting soldiers from the sky/fearless men who jump and die”). She takes that jaw-jutting attitude to babysitting, but when Bob blows up because the TV goes on the fritz and he can’t watch The Lawrence Welk Show, she explodes even fiercer, beats him, puts tape over his mouth, and locks him in a closet. “This isn’t babysitting — this is guerrilla warfare!” she exclaims. There’s a lot of that sort of humor leavening the show.
But given the subject, there is much more that’s not funny. It might be an amusing sight for their father to be scaring Bob back with a leather belt like a lion tamer with a whip, but the situation is awfully serious. The mother wants to give him “that operation” — a lobotomy — but the father doesn’t even want him given pacifying medication.
Now and then one of these slices of life feels more like uncomfortably being present during a strange family’s spat rather than experiencing a piece of drama that illuminates human interactions. And once or twice excessive sentimentality is wrung out of an incident, such as after Bob tears up little Anne Marie’s doily present to their mom — lingering tearfulness doesn’t make us more sympathetic. Understatement works better, as in the follow-up moment when their mother says that it was her own fault for not watching him.