Monday, April 16, 2012

‘Holding On~Letting Go’ Stars Veteran Performers Iona Morris and Barry Wiggins


By Darlene Donloe

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house during the recent world premiere of Bryan Harnetiaux’s hospice drama, ‘Holding On~Letting Go,’ currently playing at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena.

‘Holding On~Letting Go,’ directed by James Reynolds (Abe Carver/‘Days of Our Lives’), is an engrossing, on the edge of your seat drama that openly and honestly presents the topic of hospice and dying. 

The play highlights the plight of Lee and Bobby, a long married couple, who are dealing with a deadly cancer prognosis.

Lee, played superbly by the always engaging and authentic Iona Morris, is a women’s basketball coach, who returns home after coming off the road, to be told by her husband, Bobby (Barry Wiggins), a former basketball coach and now insurance salesman, that his cancer treatments have been exhausted.

Not ready to accept that diagnosis and furious at her husband for accepting it at face value, Lee first suggests some foreign alternative treatments. When those fail, she falls deeper into depression and denial, causing a riff between her and everyone whose trying to help, including Bobby’s mother, May, played by Amentha Dymally; his friend, Roger, played by Christian Malmin and his hospice workers, Gabe and Virginia, played respectively by Lamar Hughes and Jill Remez.

This is a touching, gut-wrenching account of a couple trying desperately to deal with a health crisis.  Bobby, who has accepted his fate and wants to make a graceful exit, tries in every way to console his wife, but to no avail. She’s mad. And the prospect of continuing on without her college sweetheart is more than she can handle.


The chemistry between Morris and Wiggins is on point. Both veteran performances are at ease on stage and give each other the needed dialogue beats and physical and mental space to bring their characters forward. The reasons this show is seamless has to do with Reynolds's direction and the physical, emotional and subtle dynamics that vacillates between Morris and Wiggins, who is exceptional in his delivery.

Bryan Harnetiaux’s writing is heartfelt as it brings a genuine warmth to a show that is, admittedly, difficult to sit through. The subject matter is one that is rarely, if ever, seen on stage. It’s a subject that leaves many uncomfortable – and rightly so.

There is a harsh reality to Harnetiaux’s script, which he began writing in 2009.  As research Harnetiaux said he visited several hospices in an effort to get it right.  The result left ‘Holding On~Letting Go’ audience members weepy-eyed with at least one member so overcome during the opening night performance, she had to leave the theater.

Both Morris, who previously co-created and so-starred in “Herotique-aaah” at the Fremont and Wiggins, who played Jackie Robinson in Harnetiaux’s “National Pastime” at the venue, deliver raw emotions with Morris taking an outward approach, while Wiggins displays a more laidback, internalized devastation.  While Wiggins’s role calls for a singular emotion, Morris, who gives an impassioned, award-winning performance, has to literally display a range of emotions that includes shock, disbelief, pain, disdain, anger, depression, confusion, doggedness, desperation and above all - love.

After all, in the end, while the subject matter is hospice and dying, “Holding On~Letting Go” is, at it’s core, a love story.

Amentha Dymally adds levity to the proceedings with her quick wit and her even quicker delivery. Jill Remez gives an ardent, caring performance.  Lamar Hughes and Christian Malmin bolster the production as support players.

Reynolds’ directing is tight, yet fluid. He makes great use of the small space, which freely alternates as several rooms.

Carol Doehring’s lighting, Lois Tedrow’s wardrobe, Marie Miller’s set design, the use of video and Grady Hutt’s sound design, all shore up an impressive production.

“Holding On~Letting Go” stars Iona Morris, Barry Wiggins, Amentha Dymally, Lamar Hughes, Jill Remez and Christian Malmin.  It’s directed by James Reynolds and produced by James and Lissa Reynolds, the California Performing Arts Center and VITAS Innovative Hospice Care, which provides end-of-life care for patients with life-limiting illnesses. VITAS works with patients and families to provide comfort and preserve dignity in the face of terminal illness.

On the Donloe Scale, D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (Oh, yeah) and E (excellent), “Holding On~Letting Go” gets an E (excellent).

“Holding On~Letting Go,” Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, CA; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. at 3 p.m. (dark May 11-13) through May 27; $20-$25; For information: 866 811-4111 or

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