Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan
How many times throughout history have minorities made significant contributions, only to be forgotten about because of prejudice and intolerance? Such is the case of Edgar and Rob, two gay men who were responsible for keeping Pendarvis running in Wisconsin during the 1930’s. They restored cottages and preserved the original architecture of Cornish-built limestone houses that were falling apart in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Their heroic efforts were responsible for saving this lead mining town from certain extinction. The Pattern at Pendarvis by Dean Gray reveals their true story of charity and love. Until now, Rob and Edgar’s story has largely been an omission in historical books because of their lifestyle. In the 1930’s two gay men were seen as degenerates, nothing else. But thankfully, now, we can truly understand and appreciate what these to men did for the town and celebrate their love story.
In today’s theater so much emphasis is put into staging and spectacle, that we forget the profundity of simple connection between actors and audience and storytelling. Placed on a basic set with three main chairs, three men share their stories with us. When Rich, a gay author in his thirties, approaches Edgar he makes it clear that he is interested in interviewing Edgar and telling all of Edgar’s remarkable tale; everything from the saving of the town to the more intimate details of his relationship to his lover Rob. However, Norm, the conservative president of the Pendarvis board, wants the homosexual details left out of the interview. Forces clash as the interview continues.
What makes this an astounding production is the connection between Lawrence Merritt, Edgar and Gregory Jensen, Rich. The men are separated by 60 years and throughout the play they develop a deep understanding and respect for one another. Their newly formed companionship is beautifully poignant. Merritt is engaging, endearing, and forthright in his convictions about his 44 year long relationship with Rob. There is power in his stillness and we do not ever get tired of listening to his unbelievable story. He is every bit as compelling as Jensen, whose sincerity is never fake. The two have breath-taking chemistry. We believe every word Jensen says and are forever grateful that this character, based on a real person, took the time and care to unearth this unheard story. David Murray Jaffe plays Norm with panache and we love to hate him. A job well done!
These men, Edgar and Rob did not get the credit they deserved for their efforts in the 1930’s. Like many influential people, they were robbed of their place in history because of intolerance. But luckily, we have people today who are trying to change that. I love going to the theater and learning about something important that really happened. This is a definite must see and another perfect example of theater that matters!