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Raleigh Little Theatre and Actors Comedy Lab Review: How to Handle Ill and Ornery Elderly Parents Is the Thorny Subject of Holding On

January 23, 2004 - Raleigh, NC:


RIn old age, especially in times of illness, parent-child roles are reversed, often with great reluctance on the children's part and fierce resistance on the parents' part. Mining the experiences of his own family and friends for examples, North Carolina playwright Christopher Shields has, in Holding On, created a compelling example of the domestic tensions that escalate when a career-minded married sister (Jo Brown), who lives in California, and a globe-trotting brother (Eric Carl), who makes his home in a succession of newly emerging democracies in Eastern Europe, return their North Georgia hometown for an emergency caucus with their stay-at-home brother (Dennis Poole) and his wife (Becky Johnston) about what to do about mom and dad (Patsy Clark and Harry Hargrave).

Monday night's energetic staged reading of Holding On, jointly produced by Raleigh Little Theatre and Actors Comedy Lab in RLT's Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre and smartly staged by director Bunny Safron, had to encourage playwright Christopher Shields. With some fine-tuning and fleshing out of characters, Holding On will be ready for a full-fledged production.

Harry Hargrave contributed a crusty characterization as Don, the cantankerous diabetic Clark-family pater familias, a Korean War veteran and outspoken anti-communist who precipitates the current family crisis by refusing to abide by the dietary restrictions designed to keep him from going into a diabetic coma. His devoted grandson Larry Clark (16-year-old Stephen Howell) secretly brings grandpa a daily bag of sweets, without realizing the potentially lethal consequences.

Howell is quite good, and Patsy Clark is right on the money with her feisty portrayal of Don Clark's increasingly exasperated wife, Janine, a devoted but bone-tired caregiver rapidly reaching the end of her tether.

Dennis Poole passionately provides the voice of reason as Ronnie Clark, the stay-at-home sibling who serves as peacemaker; and Becky Johnston is a real pistol as his wife, Annie, who bridles at suggestions by her well-meaning brothers-in-law, Trevor (Eric Carl) and David Majors (Jack Prather), and sister-in-law, Ruth Clark Majors (Jo Brown), about how best to deal with dear old self-destructive dad.

Eric Carl gives a poignant performance as a deeply concerned son who sincerely wants to do the right thing; and Jo Brown is quite effective as the long-absent sister anxious to settle this matter quickly, so she can get back to business.

If Jack Prather makes less of an impression in his role as David Majors, it is largely because the part, as is, is underwritten.

For anyone with elderly parents, Holding On will strike some familiar chords. RLT and ACL staged an entertaining and thought-provoking reading of this compelling work-in-progress by local dramatist Christopher Shields, whose career and travels parallel those of Trevor Clark.

Second Opinion: Alan R. Hall's Preview in Front Row Center: http://hometown.aol.com/theonlyarhall/reviews.html.