Nick at night

Uncle Nicky

By H.M. Bartleby
Directed H.M. Bartleby
4 Pike Productions
The Independent Theatre
52 W. 8th St. (981-8952)
Equity Showcase (closes Mar. 17)
Review by Adam Cooper

Uncle Nicky is a smart, funny, and engrossing play about how present circumstances can revitalize unresolved conflict from the past. Written and directed by H.M. Bartleby, this production featured intriguing writing, sharp acting, and sensitive direction to create a complex character study on the effects of loneliness, trauma and mental illness.

In Uncle Nicky, Mametesque language, Chekhovian sound and Williams-like characterizations abound in the story of Nicky (Martin Alvin), an angry, humorous war veteran and ex-con who operates a dingy barroom in Queens. In this tiny bar with little booze and few patrons, Nicky lives the ritualistic life of an alcoholic bartender who gradually exposes his psychosis through the few influences he allows into his narrow world. A slow-witted, goofy veteran pal Dominick (Robert Pannullo) is his constant companion in a cyclical love-hate relationship. Joey (Shawn Michael) is his nephew, employee, and the only person Nicky cares about. Tough and loving, Nicky has been Joey's caregiver in a family full of untimely deaths. When Joey comes to Nicky for advice about a feared infidelity by his fiancée Leslie (Jane Petrov), he naively accepts Nicky's offer to resolve the issue.

This task, however, turns out to be overwhelming and ruinous for a man with a history of linking violence to family matters. Not only does Nicky have to grapple with losing his one living relative, he must contend with his attraction toward Leslie, who challenges him in an unending repartee. Leslie, a graduate student in sociology, repeatedly comes to the bar to provoke Nicky with acts that eventually blast through Nicky's defenses and ignite his unbalanced emotions.

Nicky's ex-wife Rose (Carol Spero) visits him in the bar (which she actually owns) in hope of rekindling their love. Though her words of compassion are ignored, she warns him about his potential for repeating the past and hurting Joey. It is not until Nicky acts on Joey's problem, committing sexual violence with Leslie and assaulting her friend (Chris Chinn), that those around him awaken to his ongoing tendencies toward incest and violence, patterns of behavior which suggest Joey is more than a nephew to him.

Martin Alvin's Nicky successfully captured the complexity of a man with a disturbed psyche capable of both love and destruction. Also strong was Robert Pannullo as the unintentionally funny confidante who helps Nicky live in denial, and Chris Chinn as the friend unwittingly caught up in the unnerving game between Nicky and Leslie.

The bar set (uncredited) was economical, naturalistic, and convincing, especially given the theatre's tiny space. Lighting design (Bernie Bosio) was subtle and suitable. The sound design (uncredited) consisting of old-time crooning favorites and unexpected effects added irony and was unnervingly meaningful.
Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Set: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2001 Adam Cooper