note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Beverly Creasey
Reviewed by Beverly Creasey
Larry Block begins his exuberant tale of "Life" (at the Jewish Theatre of New England) as if he were a standup comic. He tells us to feel free to eat...or sleep. "If I can bring a few minutes of rest to 'the weary' " he quips. But Uncle Phillip's Coat" is far more than a comic monologue. Not since Colline sold his ownbeloved overcoat to buy medicine for a dying Mimi in "La Boheme" has a coat held such significance.
Block's Uncle Phillip was a salesman who never made a living at it.....who "carried the entire inventory of his life with him" --- pockets full of trinkets, gizmos and dreams.
A self professed "Expert in the field of general merchandise" he peddled everything from candy to kazoos and he lived --- albeit a meager existence --- the life he wanted to live.
Playwright Matty Selman crafts (from a story by Block and Selman) a cunning story of Cossacks, close calls and colorful characters, all channeled by Block in voices sounding like Thelma Ritter and Harvey Feirstein.
Through Block we meet Uncle Phillip, his disapproving brother, their son (Block)...and although Block tells us he's just a poor actor, he is in fact an accomplished actor who is instantly recognizable from his many roles on television and in film.
The coat, which concealed a child from the murderous Cossacks, made its way to the U.S. where it now keeps precious memories alive. When Block brings them out from under the thickly woven fabric, it's we who are warmed in its folds.