Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

8 Bob Off Is A Little Off The Mark

Also see Richard's reviews of The Dazzle and On the Twentieth Century

The Magic Theatre, San Francisco's premiere home for new plays, is presenting the world premiere of 8 Bob Off, described as a midlife comedy, by playwright Gary Leon Hill. The title relates to a construction term meaning that a plumber or carpenter is using a plumb to ascertain a vertical line. If the line is not corresponding to perpendicular, it can be many bob-widths off. The same holds true to the lead character of the play since his life is 8 bob-widths off.

Bob Plum (Howard Swain) is trying to renovate his aunt's rental property with help from the neighbor, Donna (O-Lan Jones).
The hero, whose name happens to be Bob Plum (Howard Swain), is a 45 year old drifter having a midlife crisis. Since he is a jobless New Yorker, he agrees to come to Portland, Oregon, to renovate his Aunt Edith's house. Bob has lost his wife, his ex-mistress and girlfriend. All of those close to him live in different parts of the country; even his son lives away from him. Bob senses that the very foundation of his existence is slipping from beneath him.

Bob visited the house many times as a boy, and now he is trying to plumb what secrets lay buried under the decaying floorboard and behind the layers of flaking wallpaper of the dilapidated house. Bob realizes how poorly he is prepared for the job, just as he has been for his past life.

Donna (O-Lan Jones), a disheveled woman with an artificial leg, and Bobby, her ex-con, alcoholic husband who she recently remarried (Luis Saguar), live next door in the aunt's rental property. They live in squalor, and nothing works in their apartment. The bathtub leaks, the refrigerator does not work and the property is a mess. And the couple's lives are no better.

Donna becomes acquainted with Bob when she hears him cursing and banging about next door, and a very unconventional relationship begins. The jealous husband believes that his wife is having a sexual affair with Bob.

8 Bob Off is a short two act play running only 1 hour and 45 minutes with a 15 minute intermission. The first act is very difficult to follow and needs serious rewriting. There are many blackouts, with Jim Cave's flashing lights that distract from the flow of the drama, and some scenes last less then 60 seconds with no conversation. Many of the scenes are confusing, with Donna swiftly changing from Bob's antagonistic ex-wife to his ex-lovers with a diverse degree of maturity. She also plays what might be in the imagination of the drifter in a short scene when she spouts off long sexual passages that sound like they came from a cheap sex novel. There is a hint of humor when Bob tries to call his ex-girlfriend by relating a series of long, long, long numbers where he can be reached. Some of the dialogue is far reaching, such as when Donna says "Well. We are none of us discrete human beings, Bob, I mean, there is some overlap, face it."

The second act becomes more cohesive and the play becomes an interesting drama. Unfortunately, this act lasts only 30 minutes. There are some good scenes between Bobby the boyfriend and Bob, and the conversation sparkles with lines like "Maintaining an intimate relationship over time is the most difficult thing God asks of us." However, the resolution of the three-way affair rings untrue. Everyone is still 8 bob-widths off.

Howard Swain, O-Lan Jones and Luis Saguar are excellent in their roles. Howard Swain, as usual, gives a commanding performance as the transient. He does an inventive executed dance while mudding invisible sheet rocking to the fourth wall. O-Lan Jones is excellent in her various roles of the disheveled lady next door, the ex-wife and various ex-lovers of Bob. She is swiftly able to go from one character to another in the first act. Luis Saguar has a cagey dangerous edge about him in his acting that is right on the mark.

The set is mostly a bare stage with two open crooked doors in the back. The props are simple, with a bathtub, a refrigerator, a chest of drawers and some sheet rock in the second act. Director David Dower does an excellent job with the actors.

8 Bob Off runs through March 9th at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-441-8822. The Magic Theatre's next production will be the West Coast Premiere of Rebecca Gilman's Blue Surge.

Photo: David Allen

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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