There might not be a more thankless paying professional gig for an actor than the jobs held down by Alan (Colin Froeber) and Jesse (Nicole Rodenburg) in “Glob Lessons,” making their way through the midwest in the dead of winter, putting on two-person stagings of “A Christmas Carol” and “Robin Hood” that have been revised by the head of their company to avoid rights issues and play to audiences of kids at local libraries for $300 a pop. You’d think a child’s smile might be enough to keep them going, but they don’t always show and living paycheck to paycheck with their boss John slow to make direct deposits, small-town dinner theater or erectile dysfunction ads must seem enticing in comparison when their Broadway dreams seem even further away than their next stop, which can be as far as 20 hours away on the snowy roads. It doesn’t help that Alan and Jesse were thrown together on this solitary trek without knowing each other much, as Jesse notes when complaining that the two never talk beyond running lines, “the reason we’re paired together is because we’re the weird old people [in the company].”
The long drive ahead turns out to be a blessing in disguise when it becomes as much of a pleasure to get to know Alan and Jesse as it is for the two to get to know each other in Rodenburg’s disarming directorial debut, a comedy for which she and Froeber really did travel over a thousand miles performing at regional libraries. Often a refuge for those with even less of a strong central idea than a budget, “Glob Lessons” never appears as if it was designed to make up for any shortcomings in either regard, instead using the frigid conditions to make it impossible for either Alan or Jesse to leave each other for long, much as they may want to early on. As creatively unsatisfying as the work may be, at least acting can take their mind off of being themselves when Alan is in the frustrating process of extracting himself from a long-distance relationship he’s not sure he’s still in when his partner won’t return his calls and Jesse is only out on tour because her “grandpappy” helped found the company they’re in and she has little other idea of what to do with her life, not even having a phone when there’s no one she knows to call.
Time and again, a little liquor breaks the ice, first when it makes the intervals in between shows a little more bearable as Alan and Jesse get to know each other more as people, then it starts making its way into the work when the applause that greets a drunken version of “Robin Hood” spurs the two to start reworking the scripts to their own liking and rewriting the parts they’re playing in real life as well. The growing trust to share things with each other that they haven’t with anyone else proves liberating, but Rodenburg is careful not to suggest that they have all the answers for one another, meticulous in revealing the ways they’ve been wounded in the past and how they’ve often overcompensated for it. A veteran of two Annie Baker plays as an actress, her background in the theater shows in the best ways possible with the film’s impeccable blocking and its deliberate build, letting one fall in love with the characters before hinting at a potential plot. Beyond the natural give-and-take between herself and Froeber, Rodenburg and cinematographer Dean Peterson keep things lively by making the most of the many locations that they hit, places where one can always hear the whisper of the wind and in “Glob Lessons,” you’ll surrender fully to where it takes you.