Signature’s ‘No Place to Go’ Finds Its Way Through a Charming Star

“No Place to Go,” Ethan Lipton’s irreverent musical about the entry into the void of the unemployed, knowingly laughs at the apparent absurdity of a “permanent part-time” job. But if there was ever an endorsement for such an arrangement, it might be star Bobby Smith – who, as a Signature freelancer, like most of the actors the theater employs, marks his 28th production with the Arlington troupe.

A kind of surreal and semi-autobiographical one-man show, first staged by Lipton and his group of three at Joe’s Pub in New York in 2012, “No place to gohas never been played by anyone other than its author until now. Unsurprisingly, the endlessly handsome Smith proves to be a worthy successor. As George, 50, a part-time information refiner and writer who learns his job is to move to Mars, Smith balances character worldweariness with the natural charm and sardonic side of a man who doesn’t. can only laugh. to his lot in life.

Bobby Smith faced unemployment. Now he sings about it.

Whether he’s raising a sly eyebrow or a pregnant pause, Smith brings comedic meaning to Lipton’s satire on corporate culture and daily routine in the office. George is amusingly obtuse about almost everything – work, family, political beliefs – in a way that speaks to the cold calculation that converts humans into numbers on a spreadsheet. His complaints about rising rents and substandard insurance sent pangs of recognition through the audience on Thursday’s opening night, as did his tragically misguided fantasy that his employer will recognize his worth or regret his absence once that he will be gone.

Smith’s cavernous vocal range allows him to not only cut through, but elevate Lipton’s irresistible score (co-composed by original bandmates Eben Levy, Vito Dieterle and Ian M. Riggs). This songbook draws on blues and jazz, with pleasant detours into country (the rowdy song “Aging Middle-Class Parents”) and dance pop (“Soccer Song”, a perfect send-off of the whims of recreational sports). George’s bandmates – saxophonist Sal (Grant Langford), guitarist Jonah (Tom Lagana) and bassist Duke (Riggs, a member of Lipton’s band who is also musical director here) – punctuate their musical contributions with touches of lightness.

Directed by Matthew Gardiner, who reimagined this living room show as something more theatrical, “No Place to Go” is set in set designer Paige Hathaway’s instantly identifiable office drone habitat. The set comes with green AstroTurf carpeting, wood paneling, and a chunky copy machine, though the design is more complex than it looks. Max Doolittle’s lighting accentuates the difference between George’s sobering storytelling and his musical tangents, as fluorescent lights give way to pops of green over brassy interludes about that last sandwich in the hall. conference and startling strobe lights animate a heartbreaking number.

Although Lipton wrote “No Place to Go” in response to the financial crisis more than a decade ago, Gardiner’s shrewd decision to relaunch the show amid the pandemic heightens the bewildering specter of unemployment. If it’s an employee review, then he gets full marks – for choosing Smith, of course, and for understanding that “No Place to Go” has a way forward.

No place to go, by Ethan Lipton. Music by Lipton, Eben Levy, Ian M. Riggs and Vito Dieterle. Directed by Matthew Gardiner. Musical Direction, Riggs; together, Paige Hathaway; costumes, Frederick P. Deeben; lighting, Max Doolittle; sound, Matt Rowe. About 85 minutes. Through October 16 at the Signature Theater, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington.

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