ARLINGTON, VA – In an off-beat musical with shades of existentialism, veteran song-and-dance man Bobby Smith (who attended George Mason University) channels the travails of the working man. (Woman could be substituted there as well.) The performance will speak to anyone who’s had a job they’ve loved – or hated. Smith, who has appeared in 28 Sig productions, is tailor-made for the role. His singular ability to perform while drawing upon a wide range of emotions has always been his stock-in-trade. Winner of two Helen Hayes acting awards, Smith is a crowd favorite, and this is the perfect vehicle for him to illustrate why.
“No Place to Go” tells the story of George, married with children and living in a small company town in upstate New York. The audience almost immediately likes George because he is a thinking man with views on everything from politics to the arts. George is an information refiner, a job that turns facts into information. There is no need to understand what that means, you only need to recognize that George is content with his work and part of an office environment with co-workers he enjoys. What he’s not entirely comfortable with is his twelve-year employment as a part-timer – no benefits, no paid holidays, and especially no job security. When the company decides to move its headquarters to “Mars,” what George calls the new location, he must decide whether to relocate. “I’m standing on the slenderest thread of magical thinking,” he says.
As with many stories of companies down-sizing and moving to far-flung towns to slash salaries and force out employees, the thought of a drastic transition is bitter for him. “They’re the ones who are breaking up with me,” he laments. As George weighs the pros and cons of moving to a new town, he imagines several scenarios. Will his in-laws move in and help with expenses? Should he self-incorporate? At 50 years old, his options are limited and his blueprint for change looks bleak. You root for George resolve his very relatable personal dilemma and maintain his dignity to come out on top.
Moments of dark humor and silliness – a sandwich awaits – temper the seriousness of the subject matter. Smith manages to oscillate from cheery to somber in a heartbeat.
Three accomplished musicians accompany him, setting the mood for each number. “No Place to Go” is a mix of philosophy and humor bracketed by 12 original songs featuring blues, cool jazz, merengue, beatbox, country rock, folk and mambo. Some numbers are fast paced, and Smith’s ability to move like Mick Jagger is impressive. Others, especially the ballads, speak to George’s anxiety about change and longing. In these moments, Smith’s emotive ability and chameleon-like style shine through.
Having seen this musical staged ten years ago in Joe’s Pub, a Manhattan cabaret club and live showcase venue, I can say that the artistic director, Matthew Gardiner, waited for the right moment and the right performer to bring “No Place to Go” to audiences outside the Big Apple. It was worth the wait!
Written by Ethan Lipton with music composed by Ethan Lipton, Eben Levy, Ian M. Riggs, and Vito Dieterle. Directed by Matthew Gardiner with Scenic Design by Paige Hathaway; Costume Design by Frederick P. Deeben; Sound Design by Matt Rowe; and Arrangements by Ian M. Riggs. Musicians: Tom Lagana as Jonah, Grant Langford as Sal and Ian M. Riggs as Duke.
Through October 9th at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue in Shirlington Village, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information visit www.sigtheatre.org or call the box office at 703 820-9771.