Esther Purves-Smith as Germaine, David LeReaney as Frank, Trevor Rueger as Bob Shivery and Karen Johnson-Diamond as Corporal Blunt in The Bob Shivery Show by David Sealy, directed by Michael Kennard. Photo by Benjamin Laird.
The Bob Shivery Show
September 10 – 29, 2012
Listen to my review on CBC’s Eyeopener at http://www.cbc.ca/eyeopener/columnists/theatre/2012/09/11/jessica-goldman-reviews-the-bob-shivery-show/
Lunchbox Theatre kicked off their 2012/13 offerings with the world premiere of David Sealy’s The Bob Shivery Show, a comedy about one man’s journey to win back the girl he loves. It’s only the second play I’ve seen this season and I’m already willing to bet that it’ll be the worst show I will see all year. Or at least I’m hoping it will be, because frankly I won’t be able to take many more like it.
Not witty enough to be interesting, not slapsticky enough to be funny, the play’s dialogue and characters are terribly one-dimensional (sometimes even half dimensional if there is such a thing), the set design is pathetically ugly, the performances weak and the gimmicks so poorly conceived that I truly have nothing positive to say.
Unfortunately being a critic, I can’t abide by the old adage of saying nothing when the saying will be unkind. Instead I will do my best to explain.
The story is essentially a poor man’s comedic riff on the famous German Faust legend in which a man signs a contract with the Devil to get what he otherwise can’t have. In this case Bob Shivery is a nerdy Saskatchewan postal worker in love with Germaine, a mousey public school principal. We have no idea how they met, why they are friends or even what Bob sees in Germaine, yet we expected to believe that he is desperately in love, but too afraid to tell her. Cue obvious fawning and awkward body language.
Two minutes into the play Germaine tells Bob that she’s met someone in Calgary – a big shot lawyer working for an oil company (and by the way we’re all supposed to find this hilarious in a ‘poke fun at Calgary’ kinda way). Germaine announces that she is moving to Calgary to live with the lawyer for a bit before she decides whether or not to accept his marriage proposal. Bob is devastated, but still inert – until he meets Frank, a flashy insurance salesman who offers him a contract where he can get whatever he wants, even Germaine, for an undisclosed price to be named at a later date. Bob resists the agent, who he outs as the Devil right away, or at the very least an agent of hell, and decides to chase after Germaine all on his own. With Frank following him and tempting him every step of the way, Bob encounters several ridiculous and tiresome scenarios until he finally finds Germaine.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, throughout the show are two recurring gimmicks that were at once out-of-place and unnecessary. The less egregious of the two was the game show voice-over treatment that popped up every time a scene change was going on. Modelled after the “This is your Life” type of bio snippets, the voice would espouse updates on Bob’s progress with catch phrases to no great effect. In fact, other than the title of the play which is obviously game-showish in its wording, I have no idea what the point of this effect was. It didn’t add or enhance anything in the script and as far as I can tell is just an excuse to use the disco ball and distract the audience from the sloppy scene changes.
The other ploy was to give voice to Germaine’s cat Snowy via a hand puppet with a French accent. Several times in the play, Snowy speaks to Bob encouraging him to go after Germaine and tell her how he feels. I’m sure it was meant to be hilarious, but my feeling is that if you need to rely on an anthropomorphic kitty to get laughs, maybe you should rethink your script.
Here’s what really boggles my mind about this play, it’s been workshopped twice already in Calgary at Lunchbox’s Stage One Festival in 2010 and 2012. What that means is that The Bob Shivery Show was seen and worked on by professional directors, actors, writers and even had public feedback sessions and yet it’s STILL this bad. I cringe to think what Sealy’s script was like before it was helped along. Not to mention the fact that thousands of dollars have been spent developing this show – money that in my opinion could have been put toward a much more worthy production.
I have great pity for actors who find themselves in less than stellar plays. I often feel embarrassed for them as they try to make some good out of a bad script. But in this case, I felt that for the most part, the performances were as weak as the play itself. Trevor Rueger plays Bob, or should I say shouts Bob. Lunchbox is not that big a theatre and I have no idea why Rueger felt the need to bellow his lines like he was performing at Lincoln Centre. Perhaps it was to make up for his inability to bring any warmth or humanness to his mechanical character. Karen Johnson Diamond, playing a painfully unfunny police officer, took on most of the physical humour but played it heavy-handed and just too overly broad to be considered humorous or decent acting. Part of the blame for this must go to Director Michael Kennard of Mump & Smoot fame, who let his actors flail around gracelessly and stiffly from one scene to the next sucking any possible humour out of the experience. Fairing a bit better was David LeReaney as Frank the insurance salesman/Devil character and Esther Purves-Smith as Germaine. Both actors had some success at not falling into the clichéd trap of the dialogue and at least delivered performances that didn’t make me wince.
When it came to the set, the issue was the opposite from the script. Whereas the dialogue was over the top and laden with loud and obvious jokes, Scott Reid’s set was stark and cold and just plain ugly. I have no issue with a propless set. For some shows it adds tremendous drama and tension to the performance. But with bare walls, and one or two unremarkable props in each scene, it felt cheap and unfinished and not befitting a professional theatre company at all.
Do I have ideas on how to make this play better? Sure, I guess. But rather than rework the tired old contract with the Devil, love the girl but afraid to tell her tropes, I would much rather spend my time seeing new and interesting stories that take a risk and offer up a unique theatre experience. The Bob Shivery Show, no matter how many time you workshop it, will never be that show.
For everyone – I disliked this play so much that I simply can’t bring myself to spend time thinking about why each of you shouldn’t go. SKIP IT