The inconsequential first half of Holding the Man is as hard to swallow as its devastating conclusion | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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The inconsequential first half of Holding the Man is as hard to swallow as its devastating conclusion

Tommy Murphy's adaptation of Australian author Timothy Conigrave's coming-of-age memoir fails to question the sociopolitical forces that led to the AIDS crisis.

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Tommy Murphy's 2006 adaptation of Australian actor and writer Timothy Conigrave's 1995 coming-of-age memoir is a difficult pill to swallow, for reasons that shift halfway through this two-and-a-half-hour show. For most of the first act, the difficulty arises largely from the surface-skipping breeziness that turns Conigrave's first two decades of life-discovering he's gay in his prepubescent years, falling head over heels for the class jock in high school, stumbling upon gay rights activism in college—into a scattershot, oddly impersonal, and at time credulity-straining highlights reel (did none of Conigrave's mid-1970s high school classmates, including his putative girlfriend, display even the tiniest unease with his open homosexuality?). Director Michael D. Graham's perfunctory staging for Pride Films and Plays, which struggles to create a meaningful stage picture or an effective rhythm, is no help.

But after HIV rears its horrid head before intermission and both Conigrave and his partner, John Caleo, test positive, the second act finds its focus, as we watch the couple negotiate terror, guilt, rage, infidelity, and most cruelly, a hard-won devotion that death swiftly destroys. If, like I, you lived through similar horrors a few decades back, the final 30 minutes may leave you retraumatized, especially given the compelling performances of Micah Kronlokken as Conigrave and Jude Hansen as Caleo. At the same time, you may wonder if it's enough for a playwright to ask the audience to feel another grievous AIDS loss without questioning any of the social and political forces that led to countless similar unnecessary deaths.   v

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