I Love Bob
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 22, 2012
I Love Bob, the newest theater creation from Parallel Exit, is a fun hybrid of silent slapstick comedy and tap ballet that feels both contemporary and timeless. It takes place in modern-day New York City, and tells the fantastical story of a real estate mogul named Libby T. Grump (think Cruella De Vil crossed with Leona Helmsley) and how she takes advantage of a sudden financial panic to acquire almost everything in the Big Apple. The one landmark she fails to get is the Statue of Liberty; it's been purchased by a self-help guru named Dwight Williams, who is Libby's arch-rival. Her attempts to gain control of the Lady with the Lamp—and how they are sort-of squelched by the play's eponymous hero, a delivery guy named Bob who dreams of being Superman—provide the throughline for the show.
As the foregoing synopsis may suggest, one of the things that's largely missing from I Love Bob is Bob himself. He's performed with joyful daffiness by Ryan Kasprzak, who is as likable a leading man as a show can hope for. Kasprzak gets a couple of moments to show off his lighter-than-air, nimble tapping (which was showcased in previous Parallel Exit outings such as Time Step), but his big romantic ballet (with Kelly Sheehan, who plays Vera, his near-sighted, buck-toothed love interest) is played for laughs; and his character mostly disappears during the middle half of the show, which is dominated by Libby and Dwight and their malevolent and/or greedily self-serving antics.
Shereen Hickman portrays Libby as a stylized cartoon villain, her face distorted into a variety of sneers and her posture angular and crooked, with a middle finger forever menacing all who dare stand in her path. What bothered me about her character is that she's as relentless and conniving as Wile E. Coyote, yet she almost never personally suffers harm from her avarice; instead she has flocks of assistants and servants who get bonked in the head or electrocuted or whatever other violent fate results from her crackpot scheming. This makes Libby difficult to laugh at or with.
Mike Kirsch plays the other "heavy," Dwight Williams, and he conveys the man's super-sized ego and hypocrisy through a jaunty, exaggerated dance style that's always fun to watch. Kirsch gets some of the niftiest choreography and he performs it superbly.
The ensemble of eight—C.K. Edwards, Aleka Emerson, David Kremenitzer, Kevin Loreque, Adirenne Reid, Tim Roller, Robin Levine, and Britta Whittenberg—are on stage almost throughout the entire show, taking among them dozens of roles. Talk about hard-working!—and they are terrific, too. They shine, especially, in the opening dance, which is a tap ballet depicting the morning rituals of Manhattanites on their way to work. It's a thrilling, exuberant sequence celebrating the tiny joys and tiny annoyances of urban living, a mood I was hoping would pervade the entire piece more than it does.
I Love Bob features direction by Mark Lonergan, choreography by Ray Hasselink, and music by Wayne Barker. It's well-executed, imaginative, and has occasional moments of fanciful brilliance. But it feels uneven in its mix of broad slapstick and elegant dance; and it never really delivers enough of its daydreaming hero to explain why we should love him.