Saturday, June 06, 2009

A better job of Holding On

That's what the local theater community needs to do with the new plays in its midst that need nurturing.
I guess most people in Spokane didn't want to spend their Friday night contemplating death, because only about 20 people showed for the staged reading of *Holding On -- Letting Go,* the new play by Bryan Harnetiaux, co-playwright-in-residence at the Civic (and the third in his trilogy about death).
They missed an intelligent 55-min. play that's well crafted, includes humor, has underwritten its three hospice worker characters, and had a breathtaking final image.

Bobo's posting mostly to encourage people to attend Sandy Hosking's Detours today at 2 pm and Holding On, again tonight at 8 pm in the Studio Theater. It's only five bucks to get in, instead of the advertised $10.

A'dell Whitehead was especially good as the dying man's wife, a basketball coach who's hyper-busy, competitive and very much in denial about the fact that her husband of 28 years is dying. Acting was good all around, but the hospice workers are mostly one-dimensional: chirpy nurse, good-buddy social worker, a chaplain who's so knowing. They all need more characterizing.

It was distressing to see Bryan Jackson, who's on the faculty at LCHS, hobbling out to his car after portraying the dying man, Bobby, so well. Bryan's dealing with some serious health issues of his own, and life, sadly, sometimes imitates art.
As a result, the focus of the post-play discussion naturally fell on the dying man (it's liver cancer, aggressive and now spread throughout his body) and his wife and his mother.
But I kept thinking: Most Americans don't even want to admit that they're aging, much less talk about death. And yet in this youth-worshipping, plastic-surgery culture of ours, there are these amazing and heroic people (hospice workers) who actually confront death -- other people's deaths, strangers' deaths -- on a daily basis. What's it like to live your life in the context of end-of-life like that?
I kept wanting to know more about the motivations of the three hospice workers: Why do they do what they do?

Harnetiaux attempts a three-part scene with dialogue intertwined like a fugue -- might be clearer in a full staging, because its premises were murky when actors were holding scripts -- but the payoff was strong, with the wife's anger at her underperforming basketball players paralleling Bobby's anger against dying.
Bobby is probably too heroic, too easy with the quips -- there are a couple of vulnerable/scared moments, but I'd like to have seen a little more rage against the dying of the light. The wife/mother-in-law tension was good -- interesting "family dynamics," as the phrase goes.

Anyway, you ought to go see it tonight.

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