When Adam J. Yeend saw the Australian play Holding the Man in Sydney in 2007 he was “blown away” by the adaptation of the memoir of the late actor Timothy Conigrave and his life-long romance with star footballer John Caleo.
“I loved it and it quickly became one of my favorite plays — I remember going straight to Dymocks in Sydney to buy the book after I saw it,” he said.
Mr Yeend will switch from audience member to leading man when the acclaimed Australian play opens in the United States this Saturday, May 10. Now an actor in Los Angeles, the former Winmalee High School student will play John Caleo in a cast that includes Cameron Daddo for the newly-formed Australian Theatre Company.
“There is an excitement about this being an Australian story,” said Mr Yeend.
“I believe the producers are going to put an ‘Aussie slang’ dictionary in the back of the program for the locals here. . . There seems to be a solid amount of buzz generating and a genuine curiosity from within the industry here about the play.”
Helming the production is industry heavyweight Larry Moss, a director and acting coach who has worked with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
“Working with him has rekindled my love of acting,” Mr Yeend said. “I have to remind myself, this is the man that coached Hilary Swank on her Oscar winning performance in Million Dollar Baby and Leo DiCaprio on Wolf of Wall Street. He’s all about the craft of acting, and I mean really acting. In my five years here, I’ve never once been given the chance to work on such good material; and given permission to go too far with it and challenge myself.”
Holding the Man certainly provides an acting challenge. The play runs the gamut from naturalism to farce to deep drama.
“It’s one of the most demanding pieces I’ve worked on. There is so much comedy in the first half and then a huge shift in the second half in terms of the play’s tone,” said Mr Yeend who ages from a teenager to a man in his 30s in the role. Guiding him the whole way is the knowledge he is playing a real person.
“If there’s one thing about this piece I’m determined to honour, that is the fact that this guy really existed, he lived and he also was beaten by something no one had any control over but he fought and fought right up to the end, he never gave up — I don’t know how he had so much inner strength,” he said.
Yeend admitted he is unsure how he will feel on opening night. But he does know how he will judge the play's success.
"I'm aiming for each performance to be a gift to the audience, not about me but me giving them the best work I can give and honoring the writer, Larry [the director], and most importantly the two fellas the play is based on, Timothy Conigrave and John Caleo."
Holding the Man’s run at the Matrix Theatre in Los Angeles is due to finish on June 29.