The playwright has based the play on the actual story of Hitler and his niece, Geli Raubal, with whom he reportedly had an obsessive, domineering, and possibly sexual relationship from the time she was 17 until her death six years later. In Mein Uncle, Geli is already living with her “Uncle Alf,” although she is confined to a room that is designed like a birdcage, where her loving uncle can keep her “protected.” (“She is not locked in,” he explains. “It is the rest of the world that is locked out.”)
Confined to her room/prison with no one to talk to but her doll while awaiting the occasional visit from Uncle Alf, it is no wonder that Geli has imagined into life four glamorous women who appear in artwork hanging in the apartment. These women serve as a chorus — sometimes sympathetic, sometimes accusatory, but usually lighthearted, singing and dancing to popular music of the era and keeping reality at bay. Her only other human contact is with the fearful housekeeper, Angela, who takes care of her basic needs with rituals involving the brushing of Geli’s teeth and hair, accompanied by perfunctory conversations.
We often see Geli brushing her own hair as well, reminding us of the story of Rapunzel. She dreams of her uncle as a heroic prince who, someday, when she is deemed worthy, will take her out into the world as his companion. Romantic notions and reality come together when an actual potential rescuer, Hitler’s newly employed young assistant Emil, enters the picture, and Geli is immediately smitten.
Sounds like a fairytale, indeed. But it pays never to forget that the wicked witch in this fairytale is Adolph Hitler, with a penchant for manipulating and cowing anyone with whom he comes into contact, abetted by an unchallenged license to get away with it until the sadly inevitable end.
The cast does a fine job handling the difficult subject matter without making it overwrought or melodramatic. Geli is performed by Amanda Marikar first as childlike and accepting, and later as a young woman who gradually comes to grips with her situation after her long period of enforced confinement. Eric Percival gives us an “Uncle Alf” who devolves from being somewhat reasonable in his interactions with others to showing his true colors as a paranoid control freak. Judy Molner as Angela and Jordan Tierney as Emil (both characters are also based on real people) show some bravery in standing up to Alf, but they truly are no match for him. The chorus of women is well performed by Emilie Bienne, Ashley Lovell, Rachel Pfennigwerth, and Jennifer Lynn Tune.
The subject matter alone, taken as it is from the pages of history, is deeply compelling, and the writing is chilling. It certainly makes for an auspicious first full-length outing for 3 Voices Theatre. Mein Uncle is a richly textured play that ought to have a life beyond this current production, but for now you can catch it at The Robert Moss Theater, across the street from the Public.