I, Robert

It's been a long wait, but the Roundfish Theatre Company is back, bold and brassy, with Bobology. These three short one-acts by Denver playwright James R. Cannon present an absurdist attack on economic, political and religious fascism. And though the plays have their weaknesses, the production values are high, the acting polished and the morals convincing.

"Nobody's Business But Bob's" opens amusingly enough with Bob--a sporting-goods manufacturer who's the prototypical self-made man--in a Darth Vader mask, rockin' out to the radio. Bob is in the process of finding a new manager for his company, a CEO who can get the law off his back. It seems that some of the sports equipment he produces is rather dangerous, and the pesky government (along with all those bleeding-heart liberals) is beginning to look askance at his operation.

Melvin, an Ivy League MBA with a solid business plan and a trace of conscience, tries to show Bob that he can make his products safe and still make a pile of money. But Bob can't follow Melvin's line of reasoning and, in fact, finds Melvin's expertise intimidating. Bob can only respond to a mind as mediocre and greedy as his own--and that's where the sycophantic Ray comes in. Unlike Melvin, Ray has no conscience, no expertise and no talent. He does play golf--Bob's favorite sport--and Melvin doesn't. Guess who gets the job.

In a world increasingly addicted to shallow self-interest, this first play of the three strikes closest to home. Bobs do seem to run the show these days, and the laughter this one-act elicits is the pained laughter of recognition. Christopher J. Petersen is hilarious as Bob--his expansive humor fills up the role like helium in a balloon. He floats along, oblivious to pricks of conscience and blissfully indifferent to the suffering he creates with his toxic toys.

"The Trouble With Bob" slips further into the dark. In this futuristic, brownshirt-and-Big-Brother world, everyone has his place (determined by Bob) and is trained to it by electronic torture. Reading is forbidden, natch. Young Kerry swears off sex for a week and is brought in for questioning by Malcolm, a nasty Nazi type who just wants to be loved--is that so wrong? (Apologies to Jon Lovitz.) It's all a bit predictable, borrowing as it does from real-life fascists and literary sources such as Orwell and Bradbury, but Cannon still manages to make the ending genuinely troubling. Nolan Patterson makes Kerry's desperation palpable, playing it with the right touch of vulnerability and passion, while James DeVinny brings appropriate intensity to the steely Malcolm, seething beneath the surface of his control-freak politeness.

In "Killing Bob," Petersen reprises the private, pop-culture craziness seen in the first play. He gets to rock hilariously again and sing along in falsetto to "Saturday Night Fever." But instead of a businessman, he's the flaky guru of a cult that will seem strangely familiar--though the show was written long before the world knew about Hale-Bopp and Heaven's Gate. DeVinny and Patterson play a pair of acolytes bent on knocking off their leader, with Patterson taking on the role of the heavy this time. Despite the sometimes distracting connection to current events, the comedy hits home. Playwright Cannon understands how these men's blinders work--and a supernatural touch ends the play on a strange note indeed.

Cannon's three tales may seem somewhat worn on the surface, but he's an interesting writer with a knack for making two, even three-tiered dialogue work for him. Language obscures and then reveals hidden motives in Bobology, and in the process, Cannon lends a new wrinkle to some very weathered material.


Bobology, through July 6 at the Shop, 416 East 20th Avenue, 831-6095.


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