Review: “Bob” living the life at Aurora

Presumably affecting almost as many lives as good old George Bailey himself (from the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”), the title character in playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s comedy “Bob” might seem like a hero to some. Given the flashy circus motif that guides director Sean Daniels’ energetic Aurora Theatre staging, scenic designer Michael B. Raiford literally puts Bob’s name in lights, spelling it out in big, bright cutout letters at the back of the set.

Abandoned at birth in the bathroom of a fast-food joint, Bob is unofficially adopted by a good-hearted waitress, who hits the road with him on an open-ended cross-country trek. Through a series of character-building encounters at various highway rest stops along the way, he grows up to be a dreamer, espousing the concepts of beauty, truth, knowledge and experience.

Nachtrieb employs a chorus of four supporting actors to narrate Bob’s kaleidoscopic story and to portray all the people whose lives he touches. To introduce the different segments, one of them will step forward and announce, “This is a dance about hardship” (or love or luck or hope), before breaking into a silly interpretive routine (accompanied by an organ-grinder, no less).

Bob endures from one mythic extreme to another: he’s hitching a ride in an empty boxcar at the close of the show’s first act; by the opening of the second, he’s a multi-millionaire living in his own casino. Eventually, a few proverbial hard knocks threaten to crush his spirit, forcing him to question his sense of purpose and rightful place in the grand “hullabaloo” of life.

Dan Triandiflou, the fine farceur who starred so memorably in Aurora’s “Fox on the Fairway” last season, plays Bob, but it’s a sketchy performance in more ways than one. The part isn’t very fully drawn by Nachtrieb, who tends to rely instead on that chorus to fill in between the lines. When several peripheral characters return in the end to testify about Bob’s heroic impact on them, we mainly take their word for it rather than truly accept it for ourselves.

While Daniels imbues the production with a whimsical flair, he generally disregards the more wistful aspects of the story, essentially depriving it of much emotional resonance or balance. Several death scenes are exaggerated and played for laughs, for instance, making it harder to swallow when the dearly departed later reappear to Bob, spouting life-affirming messages of empowerment.

The clownish ensemble features Veronika Duerr, Wendy Melkonian, Doyle Reynolds and Scott Warren, capable comedians all. With little to assist them in terms of costume or makeup changes, some prove better than others in differentiating their sundry roles.

The show’s most magical moment belongs to Melkonian, who brings a lovely, understated feeling to a pantomime involving an imaginary totem pole of animals. However fleetingly, in that brief scene we connect with her character on a level we never really find with our so-called hero.

THEATER REVIEW

“Bob”

Grade: B-

Through Feb. 10. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; 10 a.m. Feb. 6. $16-$30. Aurora Theatre, 128 E. Pike St., Lawrenceville. 678-226-6222. auroratheatre.com.

Bottom line: Sweet but shallow.

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