BWW Reviews: Artists' Exchange Hosts Powerful, Personal BOB
Writer/actress Anne Pasquale graciously and gracefully shares her family's very personal history of heartbreak, endurance, love, and laughter through her compelling performance in BOB: Blessed be the Dysfunction that Binds.
The tagline for the production - "When mental illness comes home, the whole family has special needs" - is a fitting summation of the entire show. Though BOB documents Pasquale's older brother Robert's behavioral disorder (at the age of three, Bob was diagnosed as emotionally disturbed with schizophrenia and autism), this moving one-woman performance also chronicles the realities of a family living with mental illness, day in and day out, over the course of a lifetime.
Pasquale, a Rhode Island native now living in New York, brings BOB back to her home state after receiving much critical and audience acclaim during the production's 2012 RI premiere. Employing an array of voices, stances, and mannerisms, she brings her family's memories and experiences vividly into being by recreating an entire cast of real-life characters, including her parents, grandparents, sisters, medical professionals, and even Bob himself. Pasquale effortlessly transitions between personalities and this engaging format well serves the show's pace and storytelling.
The memories Pasquale relates are heartbreaking, sweet, tragic, frightening, and very funny, and often they are all of these at once. Everything and everyone in Pasquale's childhood home revolved around Bob because any variation in the family's schedule (from altering the time of a meal to changing the channel on the television set) could result in a violent outburst where Bob would harm himself or others. This danger only increased as Bob grew into adolescence, and Pasquale wryly notes that "crisis and craziness" came to represent "home" to her during this time.
Pasquale candidly outlines the toll this constant strain had on her family as her parents and siblings cycled through an overwhelming battery of exhaustion, blame, guilt, and depression. When her parents finally admitted they could no longer care for Bob at home, Pasquale remembers her family's distress while considering options (even, briefly, lobotomy) for his care and their frustration at the limited resources accessible to families coping with mental illness. Later, Bob experienced horrific abuse during his residence at the state's Institute for Mental Health, and these circumstances again underscored the lack of support and advocacy available to the family.
Finally finding proper caretakers and a safe home for Bob (either aided by a threat to take evidence of Bob's exploitation to the press or assisted by the timely "intervention" of a cousin with mafia ties - perhaps both) represented a major victory for Pasquale. Though her relationship with Bob hit some rough patches - which Pasquale frankly portrays as part of the true-life narrative - she found ways to advocate for her brother's health and dignity from her earliest years.
Pasquale also celebrates the joyous times when the children - including Bob - staged family circuses in the living room or when her parents discovered their love of dancing and practiced their steps in the garage. She makes effective use of minimal props - a blank screen to project photos and for shadow play, signaling the change of character through a simple yet specific article of clothing - and incorporates popular songs (often with slightly-altered lyrics) to express her innermost feelings through a musical monologue (the teenaged Pasquale's use of The Ballad of the Green Berets as her babysitting theme song is priceless).
With BOB, Pasquale continues to champion her brother's cause by using the power of the arts to promote awareness and support for individuals and families dealing with the realities of mental illness on a daily basis. This work also celebrates the dedicated caregivers and behavioral specialists who (while facing a relentless battle with limited resources and budget cuts) provide their charges with the necessary tools to live with as much dignity and autonomy as possible.
Artists' Exchange is owned and operated by Gateways to Change (http://www.gatewaystochange.org), a non-profit organization committed to enhancing the quality of life for people living with developmental disabilities. The month-long production of BOB at the black box theater is supported by Fountain House (www.fountainhouse.org), VSA Arts Rhode Island (www.vsartsri.org), ReFocus (www.refocusinc.org), and the RI Office of Rehabilitative Services (www.ors.ri.gov).
An off-Broadway run of BOB: Blessed be the Dysfunction that Binds is slated for September 2013 at The Abington Theatre in New York City.
Artists' Exchange hosts BOB: Blessed be the Dysfunction that Binds at their black box theater Thursday-Sunday through June 30th, 2013. All tickets are $15 and can be purchased online at www.artists-exchange.org or by phone at (401) 490-9475. Artists' Exchange is located at 50 Rolfe Square, Cranston, RI 02910. Please visit www.bobtheshow.com for more information on the production.
Pictured: Anne Pasquale as "Bob"
Photo by Peter Welch and Keith Herron