Thursday, 21 March 2002

Uncle Bob, Red Stitch, March 21, 2002

By Austin Pendleton
Red Stitch Theatre, 80 Inkerman St., St. Kilda, March 21 to April 7, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

A two-hander is difficult to write and stage. No third character can enter and change the dynamic. Austin Pendleton's play, Uncle Bob, does it with style and Kaarin Fairfax's  production is a fine rendering of the script.

Pendleton, a member of the Chicago Steppenwolf Company,  writes a pungent drama about the relationship between a dying man and his stroppy nephew.

Bob, played compellingly by Neil Pigot,  has AIDS, now lives alone since his wife left him months earlier because he was difficult to tolerate. He is surprised by Josh's (Nick Barkla)  arrival from the country where he lives with his father, Bob's brother.

But the play is not only about Bob's illness, his aloneness or rudeness, his failed writing career or financial dependence on his brother. Nor is it only about Josh's mania, his abrasiveness, his multiple car wrecks or his suicidal tendencies.

It is about the profound familial attachment these two men have for each other and that they try to keep under wraps. It manifests in bitterness, abuse, unkindness and odd bursts of affection and attentiveness.

Pigot is exceptional as Uncle Bob. His acting craft is superb and he inhabits Bob totally. Pigot carries the show with his riveting performance and loving attention to detail.

Barkla is a less experienced and less skilful actor. His Josh is generally believable and is absolutely committed. However his performance lacks subtlety. The character runs on one note and full speed for much of the play. This may be partly the fault of the writing or even the direction.

Fairfax handles this aggressively in-your-face play by treating it simply. She lets the characters do the work.

The tiny venue that Red Stitch performs in is ideal for this intimate story. Nick Merrylees  lighting emphasises the intimacy of the space while the naturalism of Kellee Frith's  set design is appropriate.

The relationship between these two men is complex and riddled with secrets both disturbing and innocuous. We are riveted and appalled by their journey when Josh decides to stay with Bob.

Love masquerades as cruelty and desire as abuse. Each demonstrates a pathological compulsion to die. Both enact this in a different way. These are fraught characters with jagged edges.

We are confounded and mesmerised by the outrageous resolution of their damaged relationship.

By Kate Herbert

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