“bobrauschenbergamerica,” the UCSB Dramatic Art Dept.’s latest production, exudes a warmth that will leave you clinging to your apple pie.
Based on the works of modern artist Robert Rauschenberg, the play by Charles L. Mee portrays an “American” perspective on topics like life, love, death, sex and art that appear to be as eclectic as the pop-artist’s creations. The group of people that “bobrauschenbergamerica” brings together, including gay lovers and a peculiarly dressed roller-skater, mimics Rauschenberg’s murals on old cars in vibrant colors. If Rauschenberg were a playwright, his work would probably be something like this.
The play lacks a concrete plotline, but rather follows the intimate relationships and innermost musings of a diversified group of people in Anytown, U.S.A. Still, the performance maintains a heartfelt unity through comical lip-sync and dance numbers (which span a wide variety of musical genres), group conversations over meals and other motley elements that make up the American melting pot.
The costume and set design contribute to the cognition and themes of American life. The house in the background is painted with subtle red stripes and a star hangs directly above it. A character dons a blue and white striped shirt and a red tie under his suit jacket. We see white picket fences, paperboys, picnic tables, folding beach chairs and tire-swings. Through both the abstract and the concrete, one gets the sense of a picturesque, idealized America.
The play is also tied together through insights into Robert Rauschenberg’s life growing up, as told from his mother’s point of view. On the surface, there is the superb shtick of “Bob’s Mom” narrating a slideshow of her son’s adolescence – one that is made up of movie stills and pictures from lunar landings. But looking deeper, we get a profound dose of meta-commentary. “Bob’s Mom” tells us that there was no art in her son’s life growing up, yet his being, as it is portrayed to us, is art.
“bobrauschenbergamerica” manages to give deep insight into the true meaning of love, the importance of forgiving oneself and the relationship between time and space while maintaining light-heartedness through it’s witty, tongue-in-cheek humor. The play’s fickle lover suddenly decides she’s head over heels for the homeless guy. The psychotic pizza delivery boy reveals to hilariously terrified strangers that he has forgiven himself for mass murder (self-absolution being the most important step of forgiveness in his mind.)
The acting was not the most spectacular or the most memorable part of the production, but a couple of performances are worth noting. Nickey Winkelman’s portrayal of Susan was strikingly sincere and relatable. Her opinions and emotions were truly heartfelt, and she simply drew the audience into the mind of her character. Many of Colin Deeb’s monologues had this quality as well, but he seemed to lose this sincerity in his interactions with the rest of the cast. Generally, the connection with the audience that certain characters had in some scenes fell flat with others.
Shows continue tonight, Friday and Saturday evening at 8 p.m. in the Humanities and Social Sciences Building Performing Arts Theatre. An additional matinee performance will take place Saturday, Nov. 12 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $17 for the general audience and $13 for students and seniors and are available at the UCSB Arts & Lectures ticket office, or by calling (805) 893-3535.