Play review: Available Light’s combined talents make “bobrauschenbergamerica” a highlight

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From the September 12, 2013 edition

Like its title, “bobrauschenbergamerica” is what we now call a mashup. Its ostensible subject, the great artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), would probably have labeled it a “combine,” his term for the hybrid of painting and sculpture that he pioneered. Whatever you call “bobrauschenbergamerica,” written by playwright Charles L. Mee and premiered at the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays in 2001, Available Light’s production is a must-see.

Don’t go expecting to learn much directly about Rauschenberg’s life or art. What you learn instead is by implication and osmosis: the importance of juxtaposition and context, the imposition of narrative and meaning, the immediacy of experience and the exhilaration of surprise.

Director Eleni Papaleonardos must be commended for crafting a production more coherent, hilarious and compelling than that premiere a dozen years ago, in which Anne Bogart directed her SITI Company.

If there’s a center to “bobrauschenbergamerica,” it is Bob’s Mom, brought to prim life by Pam Decker. Her describing photographs of her son’s youth that bear no relationship to the images being projected behind her is no mistake. That disconnect echoes through the play. Allen (an earnest Drew Eberly) says, “You think that you see what’s present, but you don’t, you never do.” Then moments later, Allen sits high above the audience. As he talks about working on the Manhattan Project, his gestures are mistaken for waves of hello by each cast member passing by below.

Make no mistake. Available Light’s combined talents have composed a highlight of this young new season.