By Alex Lubischer.
Directed by Josh Sobel.
At Steep Theatre, Chicago.
Strange darkly comic drama sends a mixed message.
Bobbie Clearly, now in a world premiere at Steep Theatre, is a weird play. Is it a comic parody of small town folks? Or is it a mystery that features a darkly comic bent? It was hard to tell on opening night because there was so many friends of the cast of eleven players that the slightest movement or gesture evoked noisy belly-laughs from the friendly audience even when laughs would be inappropriate. Constant unearned laughter muddles the intent of the play. Especially when Bobbie Clearly is about a murder of a teen age girl by a teen boy.
We are in Milton, Nebraska present day. Bobbie (Carson Schroeder) was just another teen boy growing up in rural America. Then, on July 14, he killed Casey Welch in a cornfield by shooting her with a rifle. (I think?)
The play is a series of direct addresses to the audience as if a documentary was being shot to tell the town’s story of the murder. This quickly became tiresome because the interviewees each fumbled, became too conscious of being on camera, and became embarrassed by all the attention. Much of the dark humor of this play came from the foibles of the town’s folk. Only Officer Darla London (Melissa Riemer), the main narrator was organized and coherent.
The story focuses on two years after the murder as the folks, led by the dead girl’s parents Jane and Stanley Welch (Erika Napoletano & Tom Janson) and Jane’s friend Russ (Miguel Nunez) organize a local talent show to raise money for a charity in the dead girl’s name. Amazingly, we see several ‘talent’ acts including two of Casey’s girlfriends, Megan (Paloma Nozicka) and Meghan (McKenzie Chinn) dancing. Several boys danced to wild rock music in a over done scene that was more comic filler than necessary part of the story. Comic fillee? By this time, we see how small these folks are in many ways.
As Officer Darla keeps sending Christmas cards to Bobbie each year, ten years pass and Bobbie is released from prison at age 26. Inexplicable he returns to Milton. He is only welcomed by Officer Darla and Derek Nelson (Nick Horst), who was once a ‘big-brother’ counselor to Bobbie and now a liberal religious freak. Most of the town folk quietly tolerate Bobbie living in Milton.
In our limited exposure to Bobbie, Carson Schroeder presents him as quiet, shy and gentle soul who appears to not be capable of murder. One of my problems with this play is that we don’t learn enough about Bobbie at 16 – why did he do the murder. etc.? The time spent doing the talent acts and other filler info could better be used to clarify details of the crime. Yet at 2hours, 30 minutes, we still are left asking pertinent questions.
At the tenth anniversary Milton Talent Show, Bobbie was to perform a piano number. But another vague set of actions take over adding to the incredible story. The town becomes divided over Bobbie’s presence and his playing in the talent show. I’ll not say more to not give any what happens.
This play is so unbelievable, under developed and misguided that I’m thinking that it is a parody of small town murder mysteries? With so many preposterous plot twists and so many wacky characters (more than I have mentioned here.), What else could it be? As a world premiere, Playwright Alex Lubischer needs to refocus what his play is actually about. As presented, my conclusions could be valid? If he wants to leave audiences with another impression than he needs to make that clearer. As it plays now Bobbie Clearly is confusing.
At Steep Theatre, 1115 Berwyn, Chicago, IL, call 773-649-3186, www.steeptheatre.com, tickets 410 – $35, Thursdays – Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with 2 intermissions, through November 5, 2016.