BWW Reviews: Australian Theatre Company Presents Spectacular LA Premiere of HOLDING THE MAN
Writer, actor and activist Timothy Conigrave's best-selling memoir HOLDING THE MAN (winner of the United Nations Human Rights Award for Non-Fiction and listed as one of the "100 Favorite Australian Books" by the Australian Society of Authors) is one of Australia's most successful plays of all time. And now, thanks to the newly formed Australian Theatre Company and brilliant direction by veteran Hollywood acting coach Larry Moss, Los Angeles audiences have their chance to experience the wonder of a great love story presented with supreme devotion and skill by six extremely talented actors who play over 50 characters. Nick Hardcastle, Nate Jones and Mike Abramson produce for the Australian Theatre Company.
Highly theatrical in style, HOLDING THE MAN runs the gamut from absurdism to magical realism (including unique puppets designed by Alex "Jürgen" Ferguson) to naturalism to farce to deep drama. It is a celebration of love that speaks across generations, sexual preference and culture. It will grab your attention from the start and take you along for the roller coaster ride of your theatrical life.
HOLDING THE MAN is one of Australia's great love stories. The stage version, adapted by Tommy Murphy from the memoir by Timothy Conigrave, starts off by capturing all the trials and tribulations of teenage love, which of course never runs smooth. But it is a white-water adventure if you are a gay boy in an all-boys school in 1970s Melbourne with a crush on the captain of the football team.
Despite the odds, Tim and John fall in love and for fifteen years their relationship survives everything life throws at it - the separations, the discriminations, the temptations, the jealousies and the losses - until the only problem love can't solve threatens to part them. The play's title refers to a transgression that incurs a penalty in Australian rules football, and the play centers on a transgression that reverberates across the years to inflict the greatest penalty of all.
Larry Moss, perhaps best known for coaching Oscar, Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony Award-winning/nominated performances by many actors, has worked his magic with the actors, focusing on a great deal of character work since the actors play a variety of parts. Their constant physical and emotional transformations will blow you away. Trust me - you will not believe you have seen only six people onstage when the play ends.
The two lead actors, Nate Jones as Timothy Conigrave and Adam J. Yeend as John Caleo, are riveting in the roles. Their characterizations are so real, from the way they walk to every heartfelt emotion on their faces, you will be drawn into their love story and feel you know them intimately by the end of the play. It's a real love story between two people that will resonate with everyone as the love Timothy and John share is what we all hope to have in our lives. Jones and Yeend bring these two men so thoroughly to life, I dare you not to have tears in your eyes as you would for a close personal friend or family member during their struggle to deal with HIV-AIDS. And with the ever-exploding cases still occurring across generations, I hope this play along with "The Normal Heart" will light the fire of realization that it can happen to anyone and we must all be ever-cautious in our own relationships.
Taking on multiple roles, which often cross gender lines, are Cameron Daddo, Luke O'Sullivan, Adrienne Smith and Roxane Wilson, all of whom are well-known Australian television and theater actors. Daddo shines as the very different fathers of both Tim and John, as well as in every other role he plays, including several over-the-top characters in gay bars and Tim's acting class. But that is true for all these fine actors who morph from teenage boys challenging each other in a circle jerk to a variety of bar patrons, acting class students, and medical professionals. O'Sullivan is a riot as Juliet's mother, the most accepting of all the parents. But it is his puppetry work as the AIDS patient Richard that will amaze you.
Smith brings youthful enthusiasm to Juliet, Tim's acting friend who finally brings the two young men together. Wilson plays both Tim and John's mothers, sometimes changing between the two in a split-second yet always allowing us to see the individual characters through her focused body and voice work. During one scene in a gay bar, one of the two women plays a mustached man and I would love to give her credit for really making me believe she was a man!
The play is definitely for adult audiences as there are many instances of simulated sexual activity, perhaps a bit too graphic for the uninitiated. But each occurrence serves a meaningful purpose in the development of Tim and John's relationship as well as their individual lives.
The set design by John Iacovelli, lighting design by Jeremy Pivnick, and sound design by Cricket S. Meyers are incredibly instrumental in creating the atmosphere of the scenes; they are almost like another character in the play. Actors move set pieces to effectively convey different environments using wood chairs, a desk, a small table, a bench, to a ladder used during the 1969 Moon landing with a Neil Armstrong puppet operated by Cameron Daddo. Costume pieces designed by Shon LeBlanc are often changed on set using a cleverly disguised brick enclosure that blends in with the set background. Costume pieces seem to appear out of thin air and then disappear just as quickly between characters transformations right in front of your eyes.
HOLDING THE MAN continues through June 29, with performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm at the Matrix Theatre, located at 7657 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046 (west of Stanley Ave., between Fairfax and La Brea). General admission is $34.99. For reservations and information, call 323-960-7735 or go to www.holdingtheman.us.