The Songs of Robert
Author: John Crutchfield
Description: A folk musical for one performer with a motley cast of characters that tells the story of a lonely teenager growing up in the mountains of southern Appalachia.
First Produced: 2009
Date Added: 7/5/2011
Content Advisory: NA
Keywords: Comedy · Coming of Age · Romance · Musical · Single Set · Solo Play · Verse · Mostly Male Characters · Large Cast Size
1 Act, 75 Minutes
4 Females, 8 Males
NOTE: The Songs of Robert is fully protected by copyright law and is subject to royalty. All inquiries concerning production, publication, reprinting or use of this play in any form should be addressed to Rochelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original Production Information
The Songs of Robert was first presented by Corpus Theatre Collective in 2009 at North Carolina Stage Company in Asheville, North Carolina, with the following cast and credits:
Performed by: John Crutchfield
Directed by: James Ostholthoff
Lights: Jonathan Highsmith
Stage Manager: Lisa Huie
The New York premiere was presented by The Magnetic Theatre (Chall Gray, Producer) as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, at the Milagro Theatre on August 20, 2009, with the following cast and credits:
Performed by: John Crutchfield
Directed by: Steve Samuels
Tech/Lights: Steve Samuels
Review by Martin Denton
If Robert were
A dog, he'd purr
That's just one small, delightful example of the extraordinary poetry that floods The Songs of Robert, a gorgeous solo show written and performed by John Crutchfield that I am so happy to have seen at this year's FringeNYC Festival. Told in song, poetry, and monologue—all brimming with remarkable language that evokes breathtaking image after breathtaking image—this one-man play is the story of a young man on the brink of everything, filled with the ineffable longing of first love and the lonesomeness that comes from not fitting in at all and not being properly understood. Robert is a senior in high school in a small town in Southern Appalachia; it's the mid-1980s, in the final spring before his graduation. The events of The Songs of Robert mostly revolve around how he has not yet asked the dark-haired girl he is infatuated with to go to the prom with him. But the places that this remarkable play takes us are boundless and deep.
The story is told by a dozen different characters, each of whom Crutchfield inhabits with vivid compassion and heart. Young Robert—looking forward to leaving his North Carolina home for art school at a New England university—is one of these voices; others include his father, who loves and tries to comprehend the son whose interests are so different from his own; his high school English teacher, Mrs. Anderson, who leads a thrilling discussion of The Catcher in the Rye that resonates with Robert's own circumstance; his little sister Jennie, a cheerleader; and his guidance counselor. I think my favorite among the characters is Coach Sloe, Robert's high school coach—a P.E. teacher with a poet's soul. (I also enjoyed meeting Lurlene, the school bus driver—once encountered she's not easily forgotten, believe me.)
Two of the characters are from beyond the realm of family and school. Juan-Jorge Jesus is Robert's inexplicably Hispanic guardian angel (not in Robert's fantasy, apparently, but an actual guardian angel—I love that the world of the play encompasses this). And Ol' Preacha' is described in the program as "a wandering bluesman of uncertain age and origin," a minstrel who puts his hat out for tips at the top of the show and intermittently returns to sing most of the songs in The Songs of Robert, heart-tugging blues that reflect the anxious and questing spirit of our young hero even as the things they tell about are miles and years beyond anything he's experienced thus far.
Juan-Jorge and Ol' Preacha' are the wisest characters in this wise show; everyone in it is big-hearted and humane, though, and all delightfully transcend archetypes, because Crutchfield's acting and writing make them achingly real. The words soar in almost every moment, reflecting Robert's desires; and the music—Ol' Preacha's blues on a steel-body resonator guitar and Pap's folk songs on a banjo—are soulful and touching. The play moves around its various narrators in a more-or-less chronological fashion until an end comes that I certainly wasn't expecting, one that's perfect in its inevitability and simplicity.
The staging, by Steve Samuels, is elegant and spare, utilizing a pair of chairs and a shopping cart (Ol' Preacha's) containing the few props and costume accessories that Crutchfield needs to transform himself into the various inhabitants of the story.
The Songs of Robert is the beautiful glistening gem that I always know I'll find but don't always know where to look for in this year's FringeNYC. It's only here for a couple more days, so get it on your list of must-see shows right away.
reviewed at the 2009 New York International Fringe Festival
Excerpt from The Songs of Robert
JUAN-JORGE: Olà! Me llamo Juan-Jorge Jesus
Filipe Pablo del Amor Impossíbile.
But you can call me Juan. Okay, for starters,
I’m an angel. Si. In case de whings
confuse you. You can see de big whings, right?
You don’t see de whings? Okay, ah … dis
is very bad for you. We talking later.
What was I about to—? Oh: I’m not
just any angel, mi muchachos. No.
I have de special privilege to be
de one responsible for Don Roberto.
I’m his, how you say, ah, “Guardian Angel.”
Basically I keep de kid from getting killed.
But other stuff as well, less serious,
like getting pooped on by a passing bluejay.
You ever have dis happen? Well, if not,
you’re lucky. Wouldn’t believe how much a bird
dis size—an’ accurate too. So, anyways,
de kid was doing fine, apart from bumps
an’ scrapes an’ every now an’ den de flu,
until dis so-call “Dark-Haired Girl” show up.
Since den, believe me, you don’t want my job.
I started back to smoking. Had to, just
to calm my friggin’ nerbes. All day de kid’s
on dis, like, cosmic roller coaster, up
an’ down an’ up an’ down an’ tru
de loop-dee-loop an’ backwards down a free fall.
Makes me dizzy—an’ I can fly, okay?
Dis girl so much as maybe glance at him
in de hall, he’s on cloud nine, his eyes
glaze over, knees go pfth, it’s all I can do
to keep his stupid self from passing out.
Next time he sees her, what, she’s looking down
or up, she’s talking to her friend, she’s got
her textboook out, she’s picking her nose, who cares,
point is: she does no see him—O Dios
in Heaven! Principalities an’ Powers!
Suddenly de world goes dark, a vale
of tears, de valley of the shadow of death,
an’ O how Roberto weepeth! O how Roberto
gnasheth all his teeth, yea verily,
an’ all the braces thereunto pertaining!
Woe an’ Cataclysm! Heckie-Dern
an’ Phooey! Lawd I got de blues so bad,
I tink I going to die, die, die, die …
Maybe I should kill him? If I was his friend,
I say, Muchacho! What are you doing? You got
de tickets. All you gotta do is ask her
to de stupid friggin’ Prom! No more
goof-offing! Is time for attacar!