Chicago Theatre Review
Steep’s ‘Bobbie Clearly’ a Near-Perfect World Premiere
Bobbie Clearly – Steep Theatre
Steep Theatre’s world-premiere production of “Bobbie Clearly” comes amidst a remarkable wave of top-notch original works in Chicago theater. Along with Teatro Vista’s “Parachute Men” and Lifeline’s “Miss Holmes,” Alix Lubischer’s is the ultimate testament to the power and method of this city’s theatrical community, and the incredible work that it is producing.
Set in the small town of Milton, Nebraska, “Bobbie Clearly” tells a small story in a highly original fashion. The actual plot is succinct in the postcard sense: Bobbie, a strange teenager with a violent past, murders a female classmate in a corn field during shucking season; with little explanation for his crime, Bobbie enters a juvenile prison, and the townsfolk of Milton organize an annual talent show to honor his victim. Everything is progressing smoothly until Bobbie is let out of prison – and not only returns to the town, but requests that he be allowed to participate in the talent show, as well.
A simple enough story, but Lubischer, show director Josh Sobel, an and extremely talented cast do wonders with the play’s presentation, which is told almost entirely through direct addresses to the audience. Although some of the characters do interact with one another – two friends of Bobbie’s victim, for instance, address the audience together, and will speak to one another throughout their scene – the actors spend long stretches of time alone on the stage, telling the audience about their experiences with Bobbie and their reactions to his crime; Bobbie himself, in fact, does not even take the stage until the end of the play’s first act.
That may sound like a recipe for boredom, but such is the caliber of Steep’s production that the effect is equal parts mesmerizing, excruciating, and hilarious. Mesmerizing in the recollections of Darla (the wonderful Melissa Riemer, a Steep regular), the town police officer, who recounts arresting Bobbie and her slowly developing friendship with him; excruciating in interactions between Megan (a nuanced Paloma Nozicka) and Meghan (the always terrific McKenzie Chinn), who friendship slowly disintegrates as their views of Bobbie diverge; and hilarious in Derek (the versatile Nick Horst), a lovable bro with no regrets who embraces Bobbie, warts and all.
Across a riveting two and a half hours, “Bobbie Clearly” tackles some weighty themes: can anyone truly be forgiven for their crimes? What is a community? How do our prejudices impact our perceptions? All are tackled with great sensitivity in this most distinct Midwestern play, one that deserves considerable attention from Chicagoland’s theater community.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through Nov. 19 by Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 866-811-4111 or by going to www.steeptheatre.com.