It’s always enjoyable to attend a new work that is homegrown right here in Utah. Bob Juan Casanova is a “provocative new play” written by Robert A Easton that is presented from the perspective of Bob, a single guy living in Utah that isn’t Mormon, and his struggle to find love. Such references as “Miss Magna”, Mormon culture, Utah State University, Cache Valley, and the Sundance Film Festival all serve as influences in the writing and make this show easily relatable in a unique way to Utah audiences. Speaking of the Sundance Film Festival, that’s exactly what this production reminded me of—an Indy film that I would watch at a 2 AM screening up in Park City during the film festival. In many ways this script is similar to that of a TV sitcom or film script. The small theatre provided this intimate feel as well, and had a rawness that was quite refreshing. A simple set of a couch and a couple black boxes served as the entire set for the production. With no spectacle, elaborate sets or costumes, the entire show was put squarely on the shoulders of the actors. And these actors were up for the challenge!
Bob Juan Casanova follows the life of Bob (JayC Stoddard) as he recounts his life of hopeless romance and the various girls that he dated from high school up to the present. He serves as the narrator of the piece and takes the audience through the past as he recounts his experiences in dating, relationships and love. Much of the show is presented as monologues delivered directly to the audience and which then sort of merged into various scenes as he described each experience. I was very impressed with JayC Stoddard’s performance as Bob. He kept me engaged from beginning to end. He had a very natural delivery in his lines and near perfect comedic timing. He was equally good in some of his more serious moments as well. Mr. Stoddard did an excellent job of acting from beat to beat. He filled each moment with strong choices, discoveries and listened well to his fellow actors. His reactions and facial expressions punctuated each scene with an engaging energy that really kept each beat fresh and made the audience feel they were in the moment. Mr. Stoddard played a believable “average guy” that I found very easy to relate to.
This convention of monologues moving back and forth to different scenes as he recounted various experiences he had, worked well. It reminded me so much of the movie “Alfie” where the character Alfie speaks in monologues in much the same way and we move back and forth from the past to the present, and Bob learns lessons in the present as he recounts these experiences. There were several conventions that the playwright chose to incorporate in the style of this show. However, I felt that there were too many conventions going on at the same time, which led to some confusion. For example, the show begins with Bob performing a “scene” with a fellow actress, but we don’t know that he is in a “show” until he freezes the action, and then delivers his first monologue to the audience to explain that he is rehearsing a scene. I actually liked this convention of freezing the action, but I didn’t see it continue. I would have liked to see Bob continue this convention as the play progressed. But it didn’t. Instead, he now “breaks the fourth wall” and acknowledges that he is performing a show for the audience (not the scene he was rehearsing) and that one of his fellow actors didn’t show (which is suppose to be the actor playing his friend—a male part). So, he asks for a volunteer to fill in, which ends up being a “cute girl in the audience” (played by Rachyl Bonell). Did you follow this? Or are you confused? That was kind of the feeling I had watching it.
The “cute girl” would often perform various scenes with Bob and even at times interrupt one of his monologues to offer advice or point something out to him. This was a creative element and provided some great moments. Generally I liked this convention, though it was somewhat confusing. I wasn’t always certain when she was filling in for the actor who didn’t show, when she was on script, when she was in the present or past, or when she was “spontaneously” contributing to what Bob was sharing in the moment. I actually really liked a lot of the scenes and interactions with Rachyl and Bob, and Rachyl Bonell did a nice job in this role. But I felt that this convention could have been clarified a bit with some revisions in the writing. What I would recommend to the playwright is to have this character be Bob’s therapist or a next-door neighbor that Bob is frequently sharing his story with. And then, I would suggest that both Rachyl and Bob use the convention in the opening scene of freezing the action to discuss things between themselves or share a monologue. This would help clarify where on the time line that the action was occurring. As at times I was sometimes pulled out of the story and trying to figure out what was occurring when: such as when she was actively involved in the story by answering the phone, checking Bob’s email, etc., but these events were happening in the past not present. That, among other examples, made the convention confusing. Towards the end of the show, the “cute girl in the audience” came onstage and remained on stage left through the remainder of the show. This worked much better than keeping her in the audience, and had she been there the entire time, I believe it would also have helped to strengthen their relationship to motivate the ending of the show, which I won’t spoil, but needed a bit more development to fully work.
JC Carter did an excellent job of both casting and directing each scene. What I liked so much about the casting is that the actors were real people. They each looked like “average people” that one would encounter at the office, at school or out at the bar. A show like this typically would feature “Hollywood stars” or women with the socially expected “perfect bodies.” To be honest, perhaps showing my shallowness, at first this bothered me. And I wondered why these women he was so infatuated with did not have the perfect curves or stereotypical beauty. But then I realized that Bob was an average guy (not Brad Pitt) and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So I appreciated that fact and when Bob described the “perfect derriere” or the “most beautiful woman he had ever seen” that the actresses playing these roles were normal people, not plastic or Hollywood’s idea of beauty.
Mr. Carter has a great eye for detail and I also appreciated all the little nuances he added. He shaped each scene nicely with clear arches and kept the scenes fresh. There was a natural and intimate feel in the directing style that I particularly enjoyed and he utilized the stage area well with the blocking. He was equally committed to the comedy and dramatic moments that made the piece well rounded and full of depth. My few complaints with the show more had to do with the writing and the use of conventions. However, there was one directing convention that bothered me, and that was the lack of costuming. There were only five actors in the play and two of the female actresses played multiple roles, representing the various women that Bob dated. He had them in mainly the same costuming for different women, which was a little confusing. Though one or two of the females did make slight changes and he changed the hair color of one of actresses. I would have preferred a noticeably different change in costuming or hair for each different character. But in any case the convention needed to be consistent—either no costume changes at all or significant changes to them all. I would have preferred noticeable changes to help with the storytelling.
The lighting and tech generally worked well. I liked the music selected during the scene changes and as the audience entered. But the one light on the cute girl in the audience frequently came on too late or after she began speaking or cut off too soon. Pretty minor, but I would have liked those cues to be tighter.
Lastly, I would be amiss if I didn’t give credit to several of the other supporting actors in the show. It is rare I review a show that I do not have complaints about one or more of the actors, but there wasn’t really a weak link. The actors performed well as an ensemble. Bianca (Jennifer Hamilton) was a well-written character and Ms. Hamilton performed it with great depth and variety. Throughout the show I kept trying to figure her out (in a good way). There was much complexity to this role and she managed to play the heartless, selfish and manipulative Bianca with the outwardly sweet and innocent shell, in a convincing manner. Her two dramatic scenes with Bob, the one at the end of Act I where she tells him that she does not love him and the scene in Act II where she manipulates Bob to open his heart up to her again, only as a ploy to help him in the play they are rehearsing, were especially powerful. She reminded me of the character Estella from Great Expectations in a modern sort of way.
Lindsay Marriot played three of Bob’s lovers: Rowena, Tracy and Sierra. She is a talented actress and managed to bring a nice contrast to each of the three women. She fell a little flat as the high school Tracy, and I didn’t fully believe the Georgia accent; but she delivered an excellent performance as Sierra. She was much more comfortable with the British accent and I appreciated her vulnerability and the physicality she explored in this role. The scene she performed as Sierra with Bob where she leaves him for Harriet was one of the strongest scenes of the show.
And last but not least, Alice Gonzalez played four of Bob’s lovers: First Date, Fan Girl, Valerie and Kelmarie. She was especially strong in some of the comedic moments. I liked her as Valerie and her scene watching the movie with Bob was very funny and brought that awkward/uncomfortable humor to a well-written scene. However, this scene was beat out only by arguably the funniest scene of the show in which Ms. Gonzalez portrayed Kelmarie, the feisty Puerto Rican. Her comedic timing was spot on and she was absolutely hilarious in this role. She and Bob had great chemistry and this added much to their various scenes together.
Bob Juan Casanova provides an enjoyable evening and examines relationships in a raw and honest way. It was refreshing and bold and has great potential as an independent film. A few reworks in some of the writing and this will be a very strong play which I can see really going somewhere. Mr. Easton and Mr. Carter made a great team in creating this original work. The main disappointment was the poor audience turnout. On a Saturday night there were maybe 10 people in the audience. There is a lot of honesty in this show, much creativity, strong acting and a great mix of comedy and drama that is not to be missed. Perhaps the mature audience label has kept some people away, but there is nothing in this show that one wouldn’t expect to see in a PG-13 comedy in the mainstream media. I hope more theatregoers will come out and support the great efforts put into this show by a talented playwright and director, along with a phenomenal cast.
Around the Globe Theatre Company production of Bob Juan Casanova plays October 11-13 at the Midvale Main Street Theatre, 7711 South 700 West in Midvale at 7:30 PM. For more information, visit www.aroundtheglobetc.com.