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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
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
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide