What About Bob Colby?

Stone Pinhead Forever

Bob Colby (at left, in hat) and John Nichols (far right) in the Stone Pinhead production of “Jesus and the Pirates.”

The first time I met Bob Colby, he pissed me off. It wasn’t the last time, but this was ludicrous. He wouldn’t back down from his claim that Marty Barrett was the Red Sox’ greatest second baseman. I was like, “What about Bobby Doerr?” He stubbornly listed Barrett’s accomplishments: he led the American League (in 1986) in sacrifice bunts, with 18; he had a higher career batting average than Doerr (which he didn’t). And the greatest accomplishment: in one year (1985), Barrett pulled off the hidden-ball trick — three times.

I was astounded! What about Bobby Doerr being a perennial all-star? Piffle, replied Bob, he was elected on his reputation after one or two good years. Meanwhile, Paul Guerin, scrunching his face ruefully, interjected, “We don’t necessarily go by logic here, although baseball doesn’t lie.” What the hell? I thought to myself, What bunch of fact-fisters have we got here? 

In the early ’90s, I had just gotten out of a three-year relationship and moved from the little house in Deering Center, next to the Quality Shop, to Sandi Flanagan’s Home for Strays on Waterville Street, atop Munjoy Hill. (Sandi was very kind, taking in adult orphans like me and Manny Verzosa, among others.) No longer living within walking distance of my standby bars — The Great Lost Bear and Portland’s greatest nightclub ever, Raoul’s Roadside Attraction — I had ambled down Fore Street to the Old Port, scoping out possible third places, when I happened upon a stuffy little bar called Three Dollar Deweys.

No air, hellish bathrooms, and a back table filled with ne’er-do-wells suited me fine. Roland Waddington, the grand old man of the back table, saw me looking around and invited me to sit down. I became acquainted with a lot of unusual people, people unconstrained by convention, artists and others who seemed to think having a good time was the most important thing in life. People like Bob Colby. They all seemed to look up to Roland, who was a great stimulator of laughter with his perpetually upbeat attitude and his own booming, infectious laugh.

Bob and I became very good friends. We shared a love of theater, as well as the urge to stick a pin in the pompous. He introduced me to James Hoban, who was looking to fill the part of Autolycus, a singing pickpocket in Shakespeare’s play, The Winter’s Tale. This led to the formation of a new theater group by eight members of Hoban’s cast. We got Penny Carson to rent us the space that later become Oak Street Theater, and the Stone Pinhead Ensemble was born. (We got the name from some graffiti scrawled on the building that proclaimed: STONE PINHEADS RULE.)

Bob would do anything to promote our plays. For the first one, Porktown, he came up with a flyer that riffed on the poster for a recent blockbuster, Jurassic Park: the familiar T-Rex skeleton, but with a pig’s head and a new title, Jurassic Pork. With a few exceptions, everyone involved in that play had come from Deweys. The cast was somewhat different from the actors one might meet at a regular audition, being interested in upsetting apple carts rather than taking direction. Bob knew many of these gutsy evildoers — Tim Ferrell, George Hamm, Bob Look, Jill St. John, Joanne Chessie, Pam Merritt, Mike Kimball — a great group of weirdly talented square pegs. The play was a success. Writing in the Falmouth Forecaster, critic Scott Andrews called it the “boffo smash hit of the summer!” Without Bob, it probably wouldn’t have gotten off the ground.

In the years that followed, Bob was instrumental to the continued success of the Stone Pinhead Ensemble, on stage and off. In Harold Be Thy Name (starring Mike Kimball as Jesus H. Christ!), Bob played the pope, based on Pope John Paul I, who suspiciously died after only 33 days in office. Bob’s pope outfit, made with terrifying detail by Christine Marshall, was a work of art, consisting of all the different layers and petticoats of the original. While wearing this burdensome bevy of lace and white linen, Pope Bob sang a paean to his best friends, the mountain goats he’d lived and frolicked with before becoming leader of the church. The way Bob sang the line “a goat is a wonderful guy” brought down the house every time. Some people were simultaneously laughing and crying (craughing) at Bob’s heartfelt ode to his lost wooly friends.

I hadn’t talked to Bob in quite a while when I found out he was sick. I had no details, and waited too long to find out where he was, by which time he was gone. I wish I could have told him how much he meant to me and how much his efforts enhanced the theater company he co-created. I’ll miss him, and the theater will miss one of its comedy zealots. You can never have too many of those.