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Uncle Bob at Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co. | Theater review

An estranged uncle and nephew reunite in Austin Pendleton's circular two-hander.

 (Photograph: Lev Kalmens)
1/3
Photograph: Lev Kalmens

Richard Cotovsky in Uncle Bob at Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co.

 (Photograph: Lev Kalmens)
2/3
Photograph: Lev Kalmens

Richard Cotovsky and Rudy Galvan in Uncle Bob at Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co.

 (Photograph: Lev Kalmens)
3/3
Photograph: Lev Kalmens

Rudy Galvan and Richard Cotovsky in Uncle Bob at Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co.

 

A terminally ill writer posits himself as Hamlet in Austin Pendleton's pitch-black two-hander about an estranged—and strange—family relationship. Dressed in a black mock neck, about to cross town to audition for the Danish prince in a Staten Island basement, Richard Cotovsky's wildly age-inappropriate Bob rebukes his doubting nephew, played by Rudy Galvan: "Hamlet was middle-aged for his time!"

All in all, his proceeding argument is not unconvincing. Does a 20-something upstart actor's portrayal of a man suffering from an existential crisis really hold weight against a man who has been around long enough to have had, and more importantly to have lost, everything? For a role defined by negotiating tragedy, uncle Bob fits the bill. He's a failed writer, an AIDS victim, has become recently separated from his wife, is likely a bibliomaniac, and has no connection to his family until self-admitted fuck-up Josh shows up at his door.          

Pendleton's grim comedy examines the dynamic between two men with conflicting notions about failure. Bob submits to it; Josh rails against it. Galvan, a fascinating whirlwind of a young actor, makes for a well matched sparring partner with Cotovsky, fresh off a special recognition at this year's Non-Equity Jeff Awards Ceremony. Combustible, nihilistic, but wise-to-a-fault, Galvan's performance as the deeply misguided suicide case draws attention away from some of Pendleton's less substantiated shock tactics. As a whole, though, Cody Estle's production suffers from awkward pacing and too many moments that fizzle out before they reach a climax.

 

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