Imagine a tale comprised of two parts “Forrest Gump,” two parts “Candide” and one part “Citizen Kane.”
That peculiar fusion is exactly how Newbold theater director Michael Osinski perceives his latest production – also a story rooted in some form of immense quest.
In Azuka Theatre’s upcoming run of “Bob: A Life in Five Acts” by playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, that particular search lies in an average American man’s pursuit to become a “Great Man.”
Chronicling his lifelong journey, as the character of Bob, who was born and abandoned in the bathroom of a fast food restaurant in Kentucky, migrates from one corner of the country to another, Osinski, a graduate of Drew University and the Theatre School at DePaul University, concurrently takes his audience on their own introspective adventure.
“I think the easiest way for me, and maybe everyone, can relate to Bob is this idea that – I feel like, no matter what things I accomplish in my life, I’m still trying to do better and I’m trying to be better and I’m trying to achieve something more…when is a point when you’re ever like, ‘Yes, I’ve achieved enough. I’ve done well. I’ve done it’?” Osinski said. “I don’t think I’m ever gonna reach that spot, and I sort of feel like, Bob feels that way, too.”
Having directed dozens of plays in the Philadelphia and Chicago areas, Osinski, one of the cofounders of the Philly-based Flashpoint Theatre Company, has developed a particular philosophy toward performance, saying he likes to direct theater, because he likes solving puzzles.
Although he is tackling “Bob” for the second time in just a couple of years, Osinski, an adjunct professor at Temple University, Drexel University and Rowan University, continues to unravel then reassemble the piece and the convoluted character it follows.
The seemingly straightforward story may deceive audiences, believing they have the puzzle solved. But the play, which is packed with quips, could easily throw them for a loop.
“If there’s something unique about the way the story is told or puts a different spin on something that we think we know, I appreciate that, and I do think that this play does that,” he said. “You think you know where it’s going, but because of Peter Nachtrieb’s humor and pacing… just when you think you’ve figured it out, he whisks you away to somewhere else.”
The production uses its sharp comedy as a lens to examine American mythology.
While the play, Osinski stresses, is not intended to evoke any political messages in particular, the piece does offer an alternative stance that, maybe, in the midst of today’s climate, we forget to consider.
In Bob’s interactions and unfoldings, the positive aspects of America – and what it means to be American – shine through.
“I think it’s important that we do use theater to make statements about and to protest and all that stuff, but at the same time, I also think that…we’re focusing so much on the negative stuff that we need to squash, and we’re not remembering the good things about the people in this country, like the people whose stories go untold,” Osinski said. “The people who are essentially holding up this country who are doing everything that the country needs to survive.”
Whether walking the streets of Chicago with his adoptive mother or getting into trouble in Las Vegas, audiences see realities of this country as Bob unearths more of himself each and every step.
Aspiring to leave his mark on the nation, he yearns to see his name imprinted on a plaque one day, as, in his eyes, that would equate to eminence. But the trials and tribulations along the way prove otherwise.
Osinski says he doesn’t intend for audiences to view Bob as a perfect role model, but perhaps, as a paradigm for the genuine essence of greatness that the character attempts to attain.
“Eventually, (Bob) sort of realizes that the definition of the word ‘great’ depends on how you define it. Maybe being a great person is not about all the achievements or all the accomplishments. It’s more about the personal connections that you make and the way you touch people’s lives – the way you affect them,” Osinski said. “We all are sort of constantly pursuing something, wondering when it’s ever gonna be enough but maybe we need to take a look at what it is we’re pursuing, why we’re pursuing it and how we can better define it for ourselves.”
Info: “Bob: A Life in Five Acts” is running at Proscenium Theatre at The Drake, 302 S. Hicks St., through March 17. For more information, visit http://www.azukatheatre.org/bob-a-life-in-five-acts.