Pleading Infinity: the Bob Donovan Saga
nytheatre.com review by Todd Carlstrom
August 16, 2006
I'm going to be frank: seeing a one-person show makes me worried. It's more of an all-or-nothing proposition than a multi-character offering, simply because I'm charging one single person with my evening's entertainment. Fortunately, in the six monologues that comprise Pleading Infinity, T.J. Walsh proves himself eminently worthy of such responsibility, both as writer and performer.
The main character is a successful screenwriter named Bob Donovan whose cliquish Hollywood namedropping initially gives the impression of shallowness. He knows how to spin a yarn, however, and as the first three monologues are about an alien abduction, a near-death experience, and a haunted house, respectively, he's got great material to work with. Walsh's brash humor and easygoing manner make him a captivating storyteller, even if he rarely moves from his chair.
Infinity is billed as "a solo play," a distinction that might not seem to matter much at first blush, especially as there are no overtly expressed connections between the early monologues. Indeed, I began to wonder if the play was just a novelty piece about a guy who's had a lot of traffic in the extraordinary. As the show progresses, however, the emotional arc of Bob's journey moves to the fore. This is Walsh's real accomplishment, both as playwright and actor, and is all the more remarkable for the subtlety with which it occurs.
His abduction story seems almost a lark, and its punchline ending seems to confirm that Donovan isn't the introspective type, and may even be a liar. However, after his brush with death, during which he leaves his body and meets with his dead mother, Bob begins to seek answers to the big questions raised by his encounters with the supernatural. "Do you believe in God?" he asks repeatedly in the second monologue. At first that seems like a lark, too, like he's just using it to challenge the audience, but it is a theme that resurfaces over and over. As he reveals details about his family life, both as a child and now as a husband and father, his priorities come into focus, and an unexpected tenderness emerges gracefully from the script. His gradual transformation from thoughtless cynicism to spiritual self-realization happens (super)naturally, never seeming forced.
The tone veers dangerously close to melodrama in the fourth monologue, in which he finds himself birthing a homeless woman's baby in a convenience store, but Walsh's ability to keep your attention on the bigger picture makes the sentimentality forgivable. The fifth installment recounts a Hollywood studio head's careless dismantling of the screenplay Bob wrote about his experiences, and the huge life decision it brings Bob to. He is at his most poignant in the final monologue, in which he connects with his estranged father, who abandoned the family when Bob's mother was dying in a hospice.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this production is that no director or designers are credited, presumably meaning that Walsh did it all himself. It takes enough talent to write and perform a script of such nuance, but to have brought it to the stage without the help of another, more objective set of eyes with that nuance intact is a tremendous achievement.