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'BOB:' a play featuring road trips, Girl Scouts and White Castle

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This weekend, Sheafer Theater offers students a show with road trips, Girl Scouts and White Castle.

The Theater Studies Department brings “BOB: A Life in Five Acts” to Duke this month. “BOB” follows the story of a man named Bob, who was born in a White Castle bathroom. Bob is taken in by a waitress, and the pair go on a road trip across America. Along the way, Bob meets a variety of interesting characters who all influence him as he grows from a child to an old man.

“Bob is a very simple man, and he meets very out of the ordinary characters,” said Ellen Hemphill, the play’s director and an associate professor of the practice of Theater Studies. 

Since “BOB” features so many characters, every actor in the play except sophomore George Lucas, who plays Bob, is a member of the chorus. Many actors play multiple characters.

“It really contributes to the energy of the piece. You’re never bored. You’re constantly switching personas, and all of the characters are really big,” said junior Lauren Sibley. 

Sibley is a member of the chorus and plays Vera Ponchatraine, a snooty Girl Scout, a waitress and Jeanine Bordeau, a waitress at White Castle and Bob’s adoptive mother.

“BOB” also deals with the idea of what makes someone great, and what being great actually means. Bob has longed to be a great man from a very young age, but he is unsure as to what being great actually means.

“The major themes would be…what you think makes you great and what really makes you great,” Hemphill said. “Is it success? Is it money? Is it love? Or is it coming to terms with yourself and who you are?” 

Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, the playwright of the show, came to visit some of the rehearsals early in the process and gave feedback to actors.

“To see the person that this was stemming from, that was really neat,” Sibley said.

“BOB” is unique from many shows at Duke in that it incorporates video elements into the play. The set allows for video projection onto many surfaces. The audience might see a house or a table or chair digitally projected onto the stage.

“There are many, many aspects of images throughout the piece that are either foreshadowing or memory or create mood,” Hemphill said.

The set also combines lights, sound and video. The stage is meant to simulate America and is shaped like an outline map of America.

“It’s a very complicated play and very tech-heavy,” Sibley said. “Putting the pieces together has been a challenge, but definitely one that I think will pay off.”

“BOB” also features original compositions by composer Allison Leyton-Brown. While the original script does not call for music, Nachtrieb leaves room for directors to experiment with music and dance.

The show presents new opportunities for students like junior Cuquis Robledo. Robledo, who has a disability, makes her first appearance in a Theater Studies production this semester and has found the environment to be inclusive.

“I feel like they’re really good about making sure that I’m safe on stage and that I’m feeling included,” Robledo said. “It’s been a really good experience so far.”

Robledo, who believes that she is one of the first disabled students to perform in a theater production on campus, hopes that more disabled students will be encouraged to act in the future.

“I think now there’s more talk about wanting more people with disabilities to act and be portrayed as regular everyday characters,” Robledo said. “I hope to see more of a push in that direction.”

“BOB” is perhaps one of the more lighthearted pieces that the Theater Studies Department has produced. The piece prides itself on being quirky and larger than life, but also deals with issues that Duke students can relate to, namely how to find happiness and discover one’s true self.

“He [Bob] has such a complicated life path, and it keeps on being interrupted and changed by all the experiences he has, and I think that’s something a lot of Duke students will be able to relate to,” Lucas said. “You’re going to encounter challenges along the way…Not everything will unfold the way you want it to, but in the end, it will usually turn out okay.”

The show runs April 7-10 and April 14-17. Tickets are available at the Duke Box Office or online at https://tickets.duke.edu/.

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