BOB TIMES TWO Brown and Simpson. [Seth Jacobson Photography]
If Walt Whitman had been born in our mad, self-centered era, he would be the title character in Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Bob, the frenetically comical play getting a breathless run by Contemporary Theater Company (through September 7), cleverly directed by Ryan Hartigan.
This wildly entertaining romp is subtitled “A Play In Five Acts”; in each one, Hartigan has a different actor playing Bob, males and females, underscoring the Everyman message at work.
Like Whitman, Bob contains multitudes, and his entire life and aspiration is a song of himself, however screechy and off-key. Bob’s first barbaric yawps in this world were amplified in the close quarters of a White Castle bathroom, in which he was born one Valentine’s Day, then given the advice “good luck” before being abandoned by his mother.
Fortunately, Jeanine (Tammy Brown), the hamburger joint employee who finds Bob (James Foley), ignores the employee manual directive for such a situation, that “under no circumstances should you look into the baby’s eyes and fall in love with it.” Act One sees them on a 12-year journey around America, with Jeanine inspired by a fortune cookie’s prediction that she will be mother to a great man. He is not so much home-schooled as Chevy Malibu-schooled, and their travel ends with her dying from an abrupt ailment on the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he cremates her body. There are still some bulges in the pillowcase she stuffed her life savings into at the beginning, so he has money to continue on.
But Act Two has Bob (Amelia Giles) settling down for six years, sleeping in a hollow behind a Midwestern rest stop, dedicating himself to making it the best darn rest stop in the country (he is pledged to greatness, remember). He neatens things up and brings it national prominence. He meets interesting people, too, such as the guy bearing the ashes of a lover killed by an alligator, and someone bringing pot roast to his son locked in prison. Most significantly, Bob finds love. And sex, lots of it, with a woman passing through, on his bed of Kleenex behind the rest stop.
The next Bob (Christopher J. Simpson) is increasingly bummed out by not making progress on his life list of accomplishments, such as getting schools to educate kids through cross-country road trips and teaching Congress to compromise. He is willing for a while to settle for becoming a great barista, but he is distracted by being lured into an orgy with other counter servers — brilliantly staged by having all five of them simulate increasingly breathless rowing in a racing shell!
Act Four has Bob (Rico Lanni) do a psychological about-face from his earnest, naïve earlier self, becoming an arrogant multi-millionaire. Waited upon by a butler, he comes to the door of his mansion in what looks like a silk smoking jacket and is mean to a Girl Scout selling cookies. (He only answered the doorbell, he says, because he thought she was a prostitute.) His fabulous wealth follows his wandering half-dead out of the desert and stumbling upon the Martin Luther Kingcino, the world’s largest civil rights-themed casino. Bob’s egotism inflates his pride to bursting as he spends five years building a monument to himself. At his lowest point, he meets the mother who abandoned him, and all is not lost.