Holding The Man: A Timeless Voice; Mamet’s ‘The Old Neighborhood’; Micro Movie: ‘Eastern Promises’ – Thrilling, Exciting.

by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave on October 5, 2007


Tommy Murphy’s adaptation of Tim Conigrave’s memoir is at times a funny, touching story about two people in love. Conigrave falls in love with John Caleo in high school, and they remain a couple until their death. Being in love at a young age is not easy. And as their lives unfold before us, there are a lot of highs and lows. Some of the situations are funny and bring back memories for everyone who has experienced the torture and joy of young love. This couple did succeed however with their love even if one of the lovers was kind of loose and fancy free with his body while still claiming love for the other.

Being young makes it even more difficult to commit to a celibate relationship (Tim). This takes on a remorseful conclusion in the lives of this couple. All of a sudden from being a comedy – “Holding Man” becomes “Angels in America”. Tim contracts HIV and spreads it around. Unfortunately, he also gives it to John. With the use of puppetry we watch them both wither away. The story is strong and very emotional. Having seen many, many plays about AIDS, I think that I have seen every conceivable way that people die, but by using puppets in place of the person who is dying does make for a softening of the death scenes, as emphasized by Cathie Anderson’s exceptional lighting. The Theatrical impact is undeniable.

The pacing was good. The actors were fantastic. Both Boys (Ben Randle and Bradly Mena) gave direct, tender and compelling performances. You can’t help but like them, and Wesley Cayabyab is the comic relief, as he portrays many facets of Gays. Thank God for Wesley.

In the end this is a story about wasted lives. It was another time…we didn’t know any better. The time frame of the play takes place in Australia (70’s and 80’s). It had great impact then. Now, it just seems oddly historical. There are a few problems with the “Holding Man”. The actors, especially Tim’s fake Aussie accent is almost unintelligible at the beginning of the play. Later he settles down to something that we can understand. Even a real ‘Aussie’ wouldn’t understand it. Shouldn’t the Director, Matthew Graham, have noticed?




Yes, the play somewhat has the flavor of the North Side of Chicago in David Mamet’s memoir about going home again, but then, going home is never what it’s cracked up to be. And that is certainly the case in this less than revealing look at someone’s old hometown. The plot, weak as it is, is about ‘The Family’. They being a Bobby (Mamet), boyfriend friend, Bobby’s Sister, her husband, Carl, and an ex-love Denny. So, it’s a lot of talk about the old times (most of it bad) and family rifts. If this represents Mamet’s life in “The Old Neighborhood” – then my life is beginning to look like Indiana Jones.

There is nothing more boring than people sitting around a table talking about their family troubles among siblings. Especially when you have a whiney sister like Jolly who really doesn’t need love – what she needs is a shrink. She would be the first Sister I would put on my never see again list. As this play in three segments plods along – The Old Neighborhood is beginning to look – Well, Old!

Where is the humor? I’m sorry – but sitting around and moaning is not my idea of humor. There is nothing hilarious about this play. And, I say that as a big fan of Mamet’s works – but this one is a disappointment. Bobby (we assume he is Mamet) is on the verge of a divorce from his wife. Bobby is morose most of the time. No one in this play ever cracks a smile. No wonder his wife wants a divorce. In the first act his Pal Joey brings some life to this otherwise dull prose. They talk about undervalued Jewish heritage and about a younger age that has passed them by. Joey has all the best lines and delivers them with a staccato punch.

There are enough pauses throughout this play to drive a slow moving Muni Bus through. In the second Segment – Bobby’s sister Jolly does most of the talking. Maybe that’s why her husband Jack doesn’t say much. He can’t get a word in edge-wise.

The final Segment takes place in a café where Bobby meets up with a former girlfriend. Where is the Joy? Bobby is still on his morose kick. What Mamet needed to do in this play it to kick some life into his characters. Or, have it take place in a mortuary.

The Old Neighborhood has it moments of being spellbinding. But, they are few and far between. There is not enough in this play to make it a satisfying evening of Theater. The Good news however is that the cast is first class. They are: Gabriel Grilli (Bobby), a compulsively good actor. David Fierro as Joey the Friend is profound. Leah S. Åbrams as Jolly the Sister gave a selfless performance. Carl, her husband played by Michael Berlin says little but leaves a great impact. Mary McGloin (lost girlfriend) convinces you that love is not all that you need.

So what we have here is a great cast. The play is not very good, but you have to weigh that with the fine acting. I realize that many of the long pauses in this play are dictated by Mamet, but I would try to shorten them a bit to make the pace move along. Brian Katz, the director, should take some risks with this play to make it seem brighter. A few quick changes would make a big difference.


AT ‘THE CUSTOM STAGE’ – OFF-MARKET . customstage@off-market

FLICKER BIT: A Micro Movie review

Viggo Mortensen in “Eastern Promises.”


This movie is a thrilling Russian Mafia story. Nikolai works for some very powerful Russian mafia who are part of a closely nit Russian sect of the Mafia that lives and dies by a strict code of conduct. They are considered the high priests of the Russian Mafia. Viggo Mortensen, whose body is adorned with Tattoos, plays Nikolai, who is a troubled and very complex man. He is also a double agent and is playing a risky game as the driver of the insane son of the head Mafia guy.

To complicate his life along comes “Anna” who is a nurse at a hospital. A Young Russian girl who is pregnant and beaten comes to the hospital. They lose her, but manage to save the baby girl. Later we find out that she was raped by one of the Mafia. Anna becomes involved when she tries to track down the family of the girl. The Mafia is not amused and this puts her in danger. Nikolai tries to keep her out of the way and out of trouble without getting into trouble himself.

“Eastern” is a gorgeous film with surprising action scenes. One is especially different than anything ever seen on the screen. A fight ensues in a Steam Bath when the Mafia tries to off Nikolai who is completely nude. It is most amazing – almost like a ballet as Nikolai’s naked body does acrobats and slides along the slippery floor with muscles flexing. The dialogue coach in the movie was right on with Russian and Turkish dialects that give the film its realistic feeling.

David Cronenberg has made a movie of astonishing violence, passion and complexity that you will be thinking about for a long time after leaving the Theater.

RATING: FOUR BOXES OF POPCORN (highest rating) – trademarked –

Movie Still – Mae West


For a time it was banned on Broadway. That would be the play “Sex” written by saucy Screen Siren Mae West. The play features a lot of colorful characters. The story follows a Lady of the Night as she travels the world looking for love. Expect to hear salty songs, a shimmy here and there and tons of double entendres. Directed by Tom Ross, with music direction by Billy Philadelphia. Delia MacDoughall will star as Mae West. Originally it was supposed to star Maureen McVerry who announced it at her recent show at NCTC. Anyone know what happened? At the Aurora Theater in Berkelely. Starts Nov. 4. Opens Nov 8 and closes on Dec. 9.

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST! Remember, I told you a couple of months ago that the popular “Jersey Boys” would return for the months of Nov. & Dec.? While now it is official. There may be a new cast for the return, but the set will move to Las Vegas because the SF cast is moving to Chicago and a new set will be built at the Curran for the two month Jersey Boys stint in SF. Pretty soon there will be a Jersey Boys cast in your Hallway. And like this Commercial: “This meeting is not being held in LA, it being held in Oakland because it’s about the LA meeting, but not being held in LA.” Makes sense to me.

The Photo of Lee Hartgrave Boy Reporter is by Jim Ferreira – Film Noir & Hollywood Glamour. www.lafterhall.com.

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Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave is a longtime theater critic in the San Francisco Bay Area. His reviews appear each Friday in Beyond Chron.

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