A youngster who overcame his happy childhood to become a comedic artist.
“Some of what you’re seeing may be true…” The show opens with video of the author/actor’s father (played by him), a back road farmer from West Virginia revealing his son’s origin. It seems Bob was rescued from a spaceship that crashed through the roof of Stomberg Senior’s barn, floating out of what looked like a milk can. “We just tied him to the crib most of the time.” At three, he drifted down and never flew again. The prologue is well executed.
“I knew I was not normal…” Stromberg tells us now in front of the screen. Suddenly his speech also comes from a cell phone mistakenly left in the actor’s pocket. Some of it, including audience laughter, runs beneath live performance. He refers to the surprising discovery of his adoption then segues to the effect of a bad show review. “… almost funny the way Taco Bell is almost Mexican.” Connection to video content is tenuous. The phone gimmick is awkward.
Still, Bob Stromberg is an immensely likeable man – warm, sensitive, self-effacing, and generous, with solid values and an affectionate eye for people’s foibles. That Wonder Boy arrives in the manner of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesberg, Ohio or Thornton Wilder’s Our Town with minimal additional cast. This is a good storyteller.
We hear about his tender childhood replete with gentle quips: ostensibly studying accordion three years on a painted plank before being given an instrument, then changing to guitar. (Our audience joins him in the first two lines of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”); a first crush and sweet Valentines’ Day; the beautifully described mishap at a Christmas pageant…Belief that all great art comes from great suffering provoked Stromberg to hide my joyful heart in the theater department at college… Timing is terrific. The artist knows how to underplay a punchline.
Suddenly we’re driving with him in the worst snowstorm of the year when his grown son calls asking a favor. This leads to empathetic talk of children and grandchildren and a series of family slides that lasts much too long. Taking stock of defining moments, Stromberg circles back to his father’s death, the review, flight (more is needed because of the prologue) and simple pleasures. When he says he’s “awed” by life, we believe and envy him.
From the program: “Bob Stromberg grew up in the beautiful and culturally deprived Allegheny Mountains of rural Pennsylvania. (The writer/ performer now lives in Minnesota) Throughout his career, it has been a joy to advocate for impoverished children through the transformational work of Compassion International.”
Photos by Paula Keller
The Daniel Group LLC through United Solo presents Best-In-Show repeat That Wonder Boy written and performed by Bob Stromberg
Directed by Risa Brainin
Music & Soundscape – Michael Pearce Donley
Opening Video – Nancy Heath
October 5, 2019
410 West 42nd Street
The Festival continues through November 24, 2019
Show Listings for United Solo