by Austin Pendleton
Directed by Kaarin Fairfax
With Nick Barkla & Neil Pigot
Lighting by Nick Merrylees
GREEN ROOM AWARD WINNER BEST ACTOR (NEIL PIGOT) AND BEST DIRECTOR (KAARIN FAIRFAX)
Uncle Bob (March 13 – April 7, 2002)- Helen Thompson, The Age 20-Mar-02
It’s the excitement of discovering something new and good that keeps the theatre critic going, night after night, to all kinds of venues, even those as spartan as Red Stitch Actors Theatre’s black box. The actors’ co-operative is a passion-driven venture, financed by Vince Miller’s lifesavings, and Uncle Bob is a stunning beginning.
Austin Pendleton is well known in contemporary American theatre circles as a teacher, actor, writer and director. His play could only be the work of a contemporary American. It is tight, edgy, fast and dark. It keeps delivering surprises, not an easy thing in a two-hander.
Nick Barkla and Neil Pigot give extraordinarily good performances, directed with precision and skill by Kaarin Fairfax.
Uncle Bob (Pigot) is alone and dying of AIDS when visited unexpectedly by his nephew, Josh (Barkla). Neither even remotely resembles any known stereotype of character. That is the first surprise of Pendleton’s script.
Bob sees himself as a failure – as an actor, a writer and a brother – and has kept silent about the circumstances that resulted in his fatal infection, made more mysterious in light of his happy marriage to Sally.
He aims to keep sentiment at bay and his reactions to Josh’s arrival are hostile and angry.
Josh also seems a failure. He’s a drop-out who smashed up a series of Porsches in a self-destructive refusal to conform to parental and societal expectations of middle-class success. Their talk is combatitive, each trying to outdo the other in slashing irony and black humour. Intent on surprises, they are aggressive and punishingly fluent.
Josh comes out with something that Bob has been waiting for: he confesses not only his love for his uncle but his desperate desire to have sex with him.
The play keeps us in suspense to the end, when the question of whether Bob will assist Josh’s suicidal desire is debated. The motives of both men, disguised for years, must be put to a test of morality, not just emotion or desire. Only when it is over do we realise the intensity with which the play has been building to its climax.