Uncle Ray: David Bolger, Donking Rongavilla and a rich meditation on fathers

Dublin Theatre Festival: CoisCéim’s new show is a trio for a television set and two dancers

Uncle Ray: David Bolger’s uncle played the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

Uncle Ray: David Bolger’s uncle played the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

 

UNCLE RAY

Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire
★★★★☆
Uncle Ray is a trio for a television set and two dancers, David Bolger and Donking Rongavilla. But it also features the spirits of three deceased men: both dancers’ fathers and Ray Bolger, the American actor best remembered as the scarecrow in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz.

Bolger, who also choreographs and directs, reminisces on the world of television in 1970s Ireland. Black-and-white TVs were rented and connected precariously to RTÉ’s single channel and HTV, in Wales (if you were on the east coast), usually via a wire coathanger stretched into a diamond.

This monochrome world – nightmarish for millennials and Gen Z-ers – was emblazoned by the yearly visits of Uncle Ray to Bolger’s home through Christmas broadcasts of The Wizard of Oz – metaphorically emblazoned, in fact, because the black-and-white screen filtered out MGM’s Technicolor glory. But the tall tales and family lore created by Bolger’s father, Andy, enrich this childhood and still resonate long into adulthood.

Both dancers lament their fathers, but they are at different stages of that grief. At times this is manifested physically, Rongavilla’s sharp and angular street dance more raw and pained than Bolger’s more reflective movements, his soft arms tracing spheres as if embracing the past

Similarly, it is through television that Rongavilla reflects on his recently deceased father, who, under the stage name Rommel Valdez, was an actor and stuntman in the Philippines. Both dancers lament their fathers, but they are at different stages of that grief: for Bolger it has been 9,843 days, for Rongavilla just 193. At times this is manifested physically, Rongavilla’s sharp and angular street dance more raw and pained than Bolger’s more reflective movements, his soft arms tracing spheres as if embracing the past.

In less than an hour Uncle Ray offers a rich meditation on fathers and father figures. They might create worlds for us as children, but do we believe and accept those stories? Do we choose the imaginative possibilities of a shared surname with an American actor, or cold genealogical facts? Ultimately, the dance suggests ways to reconnect with the past, celebrate its formative magic and grieve those who made it possible. And, like Dorothy following the Yellow Brick Road, to continually search for ways to find home, where everybody loves you.

Runs at the Pavilion Theatre until Saturday, October 9th, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival; it is also available online from Friday, October 15th, until Sunday, October 17th

Uncle Ray moves to the Mac, Belfast, on Wednesday, October 13th, and Thursday, October 14th, as part of Belfast International Arts Festival

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