Minutes into Theatre Vertigo’s 2014-2015 season opener, a child is born, albeit slightly bearded, in the bathroom of a Louisville White Castle. Shooting down the Shoebox Theatre’s galley stage floor past a giggling opening night audience, ensemble member Nathan Crobsy squalls and writhes, a babe in the raw.

You’re to understand that Bob, the titular protagonist of Bob: A Life in Five Acts, will lead no ordinary life. And true, over the next 150 minutes, Bob experiences immolation, animal trainers, homelessness, hoboeness, muggery, and buggery. He’s on a quest for greatness, inspired by his adoptive mother Jeanine (actress Holly Wigmore, parenting in an accent more Milwaukee than Kentucky). By age 12, Bob, newly orphaned and squatting in the fictive William Burroughs Memorial Rest Stop, can rattle off facts about any number of other “greats,” from sausage king Jimmy Dean to Sean “Puffy” Combs and Charo.

Bob: A Life in Five Acts
Shoebox Theatre
Thru Nov 15

Yet for all Bob’s singularity—and Bay Area writer Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s richly manic humor—our hero barrels through some stunning life clichés. In case you miss the progression from idealistic naïf to shattered thirty-something to embittered mogul (living, Howard Hawks-style, in a casino penthouse), prepare to be guided by episodic dances titled “hardship,” “love,” “luck,” and “hope.”

Nachtrieb’s script aims to outline what makes for an epic life: in Bob’s case, driven by borrowed mantras (“keep looking for what you’re looking for,” “always wear your underwear”) and measured in name recognition (Rockefeller, Judy Garland, Lou Gehrig). Bob’s evolution from wide-eyed innocent to hooker-berating jerk, delivered by Crosby with unflagging high camp, is admittedly wicked fun. And thanks to charismatic ensemble performances and gleeful direction from Matthew Zrebski, Bob’s first three acts, at least, succeed in transcending an ultimately under-imagined structure. True greatness remains elusive, but as a vehicle through a landscape of American exceptionalism, Bob offers a pretty wild ride.

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