BOB BIRDNOW'S REMARKABLE TALE OF HUMAN SURVIVAL AN
By Eric Steele
Second Thought Theatre
Directed by Lee Trull
CAST: Bob Birdnow=96 Barry Nash
Reviewed Performance 7/15/2011
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Its summer and FIT is back =96 and I don't mean having a fit from this heat, but instead the Festival of Independent Theatres held annually at the Bath House Cultural Center on White Rock Lake. In their thirteenth year, FIT hosts local Dallas theatre companies for four long weekends of short plays approximately an hour or less so festival goers can experience a "two for one" of sorts, seeing innovative, seldom seen or original works =96 this year they have three world premieres. FIT productions are usually simplistic in setting, etc. and I believe that's why audiences come back year after year =96 to be closer to the works and see plays reduced to their essence =96 the words.
This season's opener started off with a bang in the form of a one act titled Bob Birdnow's Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self. Hold on, don't turn the dial or change channels. True, that's a pretty heady title for a small, intimate play written by Eric Steele. Looking up his name on Facebook I found a guy with the Eric Steele domain and an Eric who had director Lee Trull as one of his friends so think I found the right one. Since I don't delve into Facebook I got no pertinent information on the play but know Steele is one of the Texas Theatre guys who has written this quirky, humorous and compelling monologue by a "non-motivational speaker" at a company's sales conference.
Bob, played with pinpoint intensity by Barry Nash, was an obviously physically damaged older man who had come to speak at the invitation of his much more "successful" and wealthy friend and CEO of this company, Jerry. Through many side-line stories Bob came to help a group of flagging salespersons by retelling a horrific but profound personal experience. The audience was the salespersons, and to make Bob's story more than just a theatre piece Trull left the house lights up so we could not simply sit back and wait to be entertained; we were there to listen and hopefully to learn from Bob. It was the smartest thing Trull could have done.
As Bob entered with cola bottle in hand, a bit disheveled in dress and demeanor, my mind went immediately to Chris Farley's SNL over the top motivational speaker, Matt Foley. But Bob was never overly motivating; frankly, he acted as though he shouldn't be and didn't want to be there but for his friend's insistence. Though unpolished, he spoke naturally of his aviation business success mostly by stumbling around with side stories of his upbringing, his friends =96 anything not to get to the reason he was asked to come.
And this was where director Trull helped me, and I hope other audience members, transition from performance to motivation. By having the house lights up, I was able to see some of the audience wiggle and adjust themselves in their seats as Bob went off on yet another side story or philosophical thought. They had come to the theatre ready to watch a story unfold from A to Z. But by being fully able to see other audience members, other members of the "sales force", I put myself into that conference room and started to listen to what this speaker might have to say I could take with me and use in "my career".
Bob was there to impart something so much more than just his own personal tragedy. In all those little snippets of his life, we came to see how this man's beliefs and little choices along the way led to his own survival through what might have been an unspeakable tragedy. It also led to his astounding and peaceful understanding of self. And that's what I, as the "salesperson" and audience member, learned and took with me.
Barry Nash was Bob Birdnow. Period. He took this simple man who lived through a potential life-shattering but life-changing experience and kept him simple. Forgetting where he was in his speech or stopping to sip his cola due to low blood sugar, Nash let the words be the star and never "performed" the monologue. The audience already knew something bad had happened by his physical appearance but it did not dilute his final story. Never overacted or dramatic for effect, it was all the more powerful and transcending. Leaving anything "new age-ish" aside, it felt like being forced through something extremely painful and somehow coming out the other side relaxed and at peace.
Eric Steele indeed wrote a remarkable tale, directed simply by Lee Trull and revealed with infinite wisdom and clarity by Bob and Barry Nash. I don't believe they would object if I quoted one of Bob's last lines. "Who is your greatest self? Have you met him or her yet?" Upon leaving the theatre, those words resounded over and over. Bob met his greatest self face to face.
For all us "salespersons" attending that evening, I hope we'll recognize him or her when we do finally meet them.
Bob Birdnow's Remarkable Tale of...Transcendence of Self
Plays Saturday, July 23rd at 2 pm; Friday, July 29th at 8pm and Thursday, August 4th at 8 pm.