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To Hold On, or to Let Go?
Fremont Centre Theatre’s Poignant New Play
By Courtney Blackburn
Death is not an uncommon subject in the theatrical world. The great playwright Shakespeare himself had an entire series of works in the genre of “Tragedy”, and the body count in most of those was rather high. The consensus seems to be that death happens, regardless of any plans one might have had.
Native Pasadenean Bryan Harnetiaux scripts the stage to explore this mortal dilemma in “Holding On~Letting Go”, a world premier play which recently opened at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena. Long-married couple Bobby and Lee are at odds over a giant problem: Bobby’s terminal illness. Diagnosed with wide-spread cancer at age 51, Bobby can feel the fight leaving his body–a fight that Lee, an award-winning basketball coach, desperately wants to win. She’s holding on; he’s ready to let go. The story examines the real, physical acts of grief, acceptance, and, above all else, love.
This 75-seat theatre is the ideal setting for the intimate drama that asks the eternal questions about death. The audience is very close to the couple, practically watching them interact from the “window” outside their house. The stage is beautifully designed and lit, and original, subtle music supports the cast. And what a cast–Iona Morris is dynamic, damaged, and tender as Lee, while Barry Wiggins’ clear pain and struggle in portraying Bobby’s terminal illness infuses every move he makes. The supporting cast fits beautifully in the emotional story: from Amanentha Dymally as Bobby’s hilarious mother to Jill Remez as the collected hospice worker Virginia, Lamar Hughes as Gabe, the uncertain but caring social worker and Christian Malmin as Roger, the knowing interfaith Chaplain. Most of the cast has extensive screen experience and it shows in the nuance and sophistication of these naturalistic portrayals of real people dealing with a real part of life.
The reality of hospice living and end-of-life care were meticulously researched and are respectfully portrayed. Vitas Innovative Hospice Care partnered with the production to ensure that the play accurately reflected real careworkers’ dedication to this trying time for families. The Fremont Centre Theatre strongly supports hospice care and provides information for any viewer who would like to know more.
This show is intense and best for mature audiences; “mature” in the sense that one can understand that death is distressing, and that tears may come while watching. It is also quite funny; reaching both the highest and the lowest points of the soul. For example, Mother May once gives the advice to Lee that termites can be exterminated with only “white vinegar and rock n’ roll”. Such laughs punctuate the entire time, until the end comes–but even still, the end of this story is not merely sadness. To say more would be to spoil the brilliantly staged “Holding On~Letting Go”, which is as good as it gets as far as theatre going goes.
WHAT: “Holding On~Letting Go”
WHERE: Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave (at El Centro), South Pasadena, CA 91030. Ample parking behind theatre.
WHEN: April 14 through May 27 (Dark May 11-13)–Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 3PM.
ADMISSION: $25 general, $20 students and seniors.
CONTACT: (866) 811-4111 or www.fremontcentretheatre.com