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A CurtainUp Review
Uncle Bob
By Les Gutman
To live in the face of death is to die unto death.
--- Søren Kierkegaard

Harold and Morfogen
G. Harold & G. Morfogen (Photo: Yasuyuki Takagi)
Austin Pendleton's play, presented a while back at the Mint Theatre, returns for a commercial run with George Morfogen reprising the title role (written for him) and Gale Harold, a star of cable television's Queer as Folk, as his nephew, Josh. Its subject matter is ambitious, to say the least, taking on the sorts of questions about life and death that existential philosophers spend lifetimes pondering. It also takes unvarnished if somewhat superficial stabs at uncomfortable subjects like incest, pedophilia and rudely unapologetic homophobia. Although it gets to the heart of the existential debate, Uncle Bob never achieves enough focus to make much of a point, or to have much heart on its own.

Bob is an older man dying of AIDS (although you wouldn't know it by looking at Morfogen). He was married, but his wife left him three months ago. She may still come around, although this idea may be a fantasy since we never see her. He claims (for no particular reason) not to be gay or bisexual, but admits he "took it in the ass". As a younger man, he moved to New York, where he lives in a not-very-nice apartment, at least based on the particularly skimpy set on display. A putative novelist and actor, he was a hack as both and has been supported by his brother, who runs the family's business. He is a bitter curmudgeon who anticipates a meaningless death as an apt coda to a meaningless life.

Nephew Josh, a troubled young man with a violent and homophobic streak, too much of a loser to be called a slacker, shows up in New York unannounced to take care of Bob. Despite the fact that they spend most of their waking moments baiting and insulting each other, they are kindred spirits, and there is an underlying albeit skewed bond. They excoriate each other for what they see in the mirrors that they represent to one another.

Morfogen is fine, if something less than three-dimensional, as he plays the old crank for all of his faux-intellectual neo-Wildean wit ("You don't offend me, you bore me."; "Each minute that you are here makes me happier I am dying."; and so on). The full potential of Josh's character may not be realized in Harold's performance, but he gets the essence of the role including useful hints as to the extent of the mental health issues that affect him. Together, their on-stage chemistry can't be called electrifying, but it's not bad either. Courtney Moorehead's direction, likewise, is serviceable, but doesn't find a path to telling the story with more coherence or energy.

At one point in the second act, Josh beats Bob up. (This happens off-stage.) When Bob stumbles back on-stage and collapses on the floor, it seems for a moment the play will end on a troubling note. But Bob regroups, and the play proceeds on to a different ending, one that might have been shocking had anything that preceded it prepared us for caring.

L.A. Review of another Pendleton play Orson's Shadow , coming to NY in the fall

by Austin Pendleton
Directed by Courtney Moorehead
>starring George Morfogen and Gale Harold
Set Design: Matt Corsover and Andrew Sendor
Costume Design: Pamela Snider
Lighting Design: Jason A. Cina
Fight Choreography: Lee Willet
Running Time: 2 hours including 1 intermission
Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (west of 6 Av.) Telephone (212) 239-6200
Opening April 23, 2001 for open run
Tues. - Sat. @8, Sun. @7, Sat. - Sun. @ 2; $45
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 4/17/01 performance

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