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Who Mourns For Bob The Goon?

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - July 28, 2016


Phillip Christian
Photo by Steven Pisano

War is hell. Truly. And far too many military men and women return from combat tours suffering from the aftereffects of that hellish experience, what we neatly wrap up in the term "post traumatic stress disorder." A group of such traumatized veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the subjects of Joshua Young's psychologically complex play Who Mourns For Bob The Goon?, a not-always-cohesive blend of reality, fantasy, paranoia, and dark satire that is opening tonight at HERE in a production mounted by The Playwriting Collective.

Six of the walking wounded and their self-important ("only I can heal you") VA therapist Jonathan (John Carhart) meet regularly for group sessions. This is an oddly specific sort of group. Each of the participants identifies with some third-tier action comic book character. If you are an aficionado of such lore, you may recognize their alter egos. Drawing from the X-Men world, Sybil (LaGina Hill) identifies with a six-armed sorceress named Spiral. Alison (Jolynn Carpenter) sees herself as The Dazzler, another Marvel mutant figure. More troublesome, the seemingly gentle Artie (Matt Mingle) identifies with Mr. Gone, a serial rapist in The Maxx, and the always-explosive Jim (Phillip Christian) is The Spectre, a vengeful DC Comics character.

There are two others in the group who don't fit in quite the same way. One is Bob (Alex Teachey), who not only identifies with a comic book character but is unshakable in his conviction that he actually is Bob the Goon, henchman to Batman's mortal enemy The Joker. (The rest at least have a nodding acquaintance with reality). There is also a newcomer (Alicia Goranson) who refers to herself as "Langly," an identify that stems not from comic books but from the realm of anime. It may sound like a minor departure, but some of the others, especially the rigid absolutist Jim, find her presence to be disruptive and dangerous.

This is some disturbing territory we are exploring here, especially when we meet each of the individuals in their full glory as they embody their fantasy personae. And they are not playing dress up; we are treading inside the minds of some seriously troubled folks.

Over the course of the play, we grow to understand the connection between the characters' fantasy identifies and their actual war experiences, and we do see some progress in their ability to function in civilian life. But we also learn that their therapist is using the group as guinea pigs for an experimental treatment he hopes will lead to fame and fortune. There is, it seems, some justification to the paranoia some of the group members are feeling, especially as things start to spiral even more out of control than they already are.

The playwright has a lot to say about the difficulties faced by war vets burdened with PTSD, the way we tend to ignore them when they return with their problems, the iffy service provided by the VA, and the general air of threat and paranoia that attaches to many of their lives. All of these vie for our attention through the play's many scenes, and it is very difficult to stay on top of the varying threads. The various comic book elements adds to the confusion, especially if you are not well-versed in the genre.

One element that does work well is the visualization of the fantasy figures, using outstanding puppet designs by James Ortiz (2016 Obie winner for The Woodsman), costumes by Jenny O'Donnell, and projections by the playwright. Original music by Wi-Moto Nyoka, reminiscent of film scores featuring Marvel or DC Comics characters, serves as a bridge between scenes. For their part, director Lucia Bellini and the cast do their best with the knotty and sometimes dense writing that prevents the characters from coming fully to life. In the end, they seem as two-dimensional as those on the pages of the comic books they identify with.


Who Mourns For Bob The Goon?
Through August 13
Here Arts Center, 145 6th Avenue, one block south of Spring Street.
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: here.org


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