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Opinion

Mr. Wonderboy combines comedy and authenticity

Photo: Connor McCourtney

Flight. It’s that brief moment when feet are off the floor and heads are in the clouds. It’s attainable only by birds and superheroes, but not humans. It’s that feeling of the endless opportunity of life that actor Bob Stromberg attempts to uncover through an engaging one-man act.

One cannot (and should not) enter “Mr. Wonder Boy” with expectations. If so, the opening video, presenting the tale of a boy that can fly is peculiar. Not sure where the story will go from there or how it could go from there, Stromberg then falls into a story within a story. The actor steps out of the primary character and into one he knows all the better—himself.

The first thought is that it would get lonely up on a stage all by the self. Yet Stromberg takes the many characters of his tales, from a grandiose music teacher to a beatnik theater professor, and he emulates them to the point where there may as well be multiple characters on the stage. It’s the themes of intrigue that bubble memories back up along with a few tears (both from laughter and sadness). With scenes of boyhood, art and growing up, the bubble of audience anticipation bounced with each new chapter of Stromberg’s monologue.

The show is a whirlwind of tales and Stromberg settles in to the vivacious ebb and flow of storytelling. It’s a lost art left to the minstrels of yesteryear and the traditional griots of the African language. The tales are assisted by the minimalist set of the Temple for Performing Arts theater stage. With sets of candles and various white shapes, the space turns into whatever setting—piano bench, apple tree and ottoman—Stromberg requires.

Judging by the laughing snorts of the woman in the second row and the chuckles of two nearby men, Stromberg hit the right chords with a number of people. Direct eye contact and body actions necessitated the audience participate. Audience demographic was similar to that of middle-aged Stromberg and probably for the better. While younger generations would have recognized many of the aspects of the tales, it was the generations that lived through the reference points of slide reels, Lawrence Welk and the attitude of the collegiate 1970s that related the best.

Who really is the man behind the madness? Stromberg, like the various hats he wears during the performance, is a man of many talents. When he walks on the stage, smiles ensue mostly due to his comedic background. Stromberg joined a talented team to author “Triple Espresso,” which opened in Minnesota, and finally closed in 2008 after a 12-year run.

Speak with Stromberg for even a brief moment and a refreshing authenticity shines through. He notes that he was a bit apprehensive with doing a one-man show, but the opportunity has allowed him to find people truly inspired by the story. He’s about not confining yourself to one defining factor. He stated that he realized there were finally these defining testaments in his story and that we all have good and bad moments.

The knack for comedy also shines through the three books Stromberg wrote, including the award-winning fishing story, “The Miracle at Stinky Bay.” He has a knack for targeting families and more importantly, children. Stromberg is a strong advocate for the fight against poverty with the Compassion International organization.

“Mr. Wonder Boy” is an intriguing mix of comedy, laughter and vivacious vignettes that is unlike anything to grace the stage of downtown Des Moines. It will challenge viewers to define those moments in life that define them, not the external reviews or opinions of others. In the end, it’s creating art—an individual art.

Don’t Miss the Boy or the Wonder

Where: Temple Theater
When: Feb. 16-27
Times: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 7:30 p.m., Saturday  5 & 8 p.m., Sunday  2 p.m.
Price: $32.50 – $38.50
Purchase online: http://civiccenter.org/

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