Uncle, A CurtainUp Online Theater Magazine Off-Broadway review, CurtainUp

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Oh, the irony of it all. Growing up, my mom, she encouraged me. . .She listened to every single little piano recital I ever performed in. And after, I'd sit back down beside her and she'd say, "You looked just like Irvin up there". . .She was really proud of me. She really was!. . .Was.— Brent.
James Heatherly And Brian Patacca
(Photo: Jim Baldassare)
Unlike Farm Boys, in which he collaborated with Amy Fox, Dean Gray has tackled Uncle alone and without using Will Fellows' docudrama about young men in Midwestern farm communites coming to terms with their sexual identities. And yet, Gray once again focuses on a Gay Midwesterner, this time Brent (Brian Patacca) a gifted young composer from a conservative Christian background now living in New York.

Gray's style is slow and quiet and that's how this story unwinds. He once again relies on the ghostly shadow of a dead man (Darren Lougee as the uncle of the title who died when Brent was a year old) to help the troubled young composer live a less cocooned, emotionally crippled existence. That means Brent must finally unpack and air out the issue of his homosexuality with the mother who nurtured his talent and yearns to see more of him but on her territory. She hasn't visited him in the ten years he's lived in New York.

Andrew Rindfleisch's hauntingly beautiful choral music establishes the play as a redemptive journey which makes Brent realize that he is not doomed to relive the tragedy of his uncle's life but can instead use it to guide him towards an epiphany for himself and his mother. Much more than just incidental music, Rindfleisch's recording (which is sold in the lobby) is especially meaningful since the Uncle whose presence overarches the flashbacks and memories interspersed with the present day scenes was a member of a successful choral singing group.

It's a snapshort of Uncle Irvin with another young man that he sees in his mother's family photo collection that triggers Brent's need to find out more about this uncle he never knew but who he senses might have helped him deal with the pain of being an outsider in a homophobic family. The first step in the puzzle hinted at in that snapshot is to track down a record by the choral organization with which Uncle Irvin performed. That search serendipidously brings Sean (James Heatherly), a reference librarian into the picture. The successful search for the record in turn leads to Anthony (Richard Bowden), Irvin's very much alive former accompanyist and now manager of the choral group which just happens to be booked for a New York concert.

The back and forth shifts between past and present are easy to follow, with Nancy McDonniel smoothly switching from Irvin's sister to Brent's mother and James Heatherly from Sean to Anthony as a young man. The connection between Brent and the Uncle he wished had been there when he was growing up is forged with few surprises, but the predictability of the script and the over-leisurely pace of Wayne Maugans' direction are offset by Brian Patacca's sensitive portrayal of Brent and James Heatherly's as Sean. Heatherly's vibrant charm is a perfect counterpoint to Patacca's sad-eyed and conflicted character. The three supporting actors are fine but this is Patacca and Heatherly who hold our attention and engage us emotionally.

This is obviously not a big budget production so there's not much to say about the staging except that the designers manage to make very little go far to suggest time and place. At a movie-priced ticket cost in a small theater that doesn't have a single bad seat, Uncle is worth checking out.

Farm Boys, also by Dean Gray
Lee Blessing's Thief River, my own favorite play on this theme

By Dean Gray
Directed by Wayne Maugans.
Cast: Brian Patacca (Brent), Richard Bowden (Anthony), James Heatherly (Irvin), Darren Lougee (Irvin). Nancy McDoniel (Iris)
Sets: Daniel Ettinger,
Costumes: Martin T. Lopez
Lights: Paul Bartlett
Sound: David Lawson
Composer Andrew Rindfleisch's music
Additional Music: Colin Huggins
Running Time: 2 hours with an intermission
Blue Heron Theatre at The ArcLight, 152 West 71st Street (between Broadwayway and Columbus) SmartTix 212-868-4444
2/10/07 to 2/27/07; opening 2/12/07
Tickets: $20
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer 2/10/07
broadway musicals: the 101 greatest shows of all time
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.

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