Chicago Theatre Review
The Fabulous Mineral Point Men
Ten Dollar House – Pride Films and Plays
Anyone familiar with Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge, better known as television’s Fabulous Beekman Boys, will see a similarity between them and the two real life characters in this play. Librarians-turned-playwrights Rick Kinnebrew and Martha Meyer were inspired to write the story of these two men from Mineral Point, Wisconsin, who collaborated to restore one of several stone cottages in this Cornish immigrant mining town. The Depression hit the area hard and the zinc mines eventually all closed down with the miners heading West to find gold. Bob Neal, an antiques aficionado, and Edgar Hellum, an architectural restorer from nearby Stoughton, met quit by accident and developed a loving relationship. United by their passion for restoring old buildings and vintage furnishings, the two men began a new life together. This is their true story.
Staged within Evanston’s intimate Main Street Metra Station by Piccolo Theater’s Artistic Director, Michael D. Graham, the story of Bob and Edgar unfolds practically right in the audience’s lap. It’s a small story about two great men sharing a dream as well as, what was known at that time, “the love that dare not speak its name.” It took the more flamboyant Bob Neal a bit of time to convince the closeted Edgar Hellum that their attraction for each other and their ultimate romance was just as important as their business relationship. Even the townsfolk were more accepting of their homosexual union than Hellum, but unlike most gay romances from this unenlightened era, their adventure results in a satisfying, happy ending. Although the furniture moving gets a bit old, Sarah Lewis’ skeletal set works well and provides just enough space for Graham to keep his actors engaged and moving.
Scott Patrick Sawa is a most commanding force as Bob Neal. Although perhaps a bit too colorful and bombastic for the tiny space, Mr. Sawa manages to capture both Neal’s eccentricity and artistic side, while still finding Neal’s vulnerability and quieter moments. Ruggedly handsome Chicago newcomer, Joe Anderson creates a realistic, very likable Edgar Hellum. He’s the more believable of the two characters, particularly considering the geographic locale and the time period during which these two men lived. The best scenes between these two young actors are the tender love scenes they share. Tom Chiola displays a Cyril Ritchard kind of theatricality as William Gundry, Neal’s friend and ardent supporter, an older generation gay gentleman who also resides in Mineral Point. He and his sister Marjorie, played with doting affection and skepticism by Jean Marie Koon, become a surrogate family for Bob and Edgar. Rounding out the cast is lovely Mindy Barber as Betty Cass, a Madison newspaper columnist, who helps champion and report on the men’s artistic endeavors.
While this play probably won’t break any new ground, it achieves what it sets out to do. It tells a true, warmly wrought story about two men who, against all odds, both love, respect and care for each other at a time when LGBT rights were only a pipe dream. It’s fascinating and instructive (especially for younger audiences) to relive a time when gay men and women were not only forbidden to marry, but couldn’t even be thought of as a couple. Bob and Edgar helped the people in this particular small Midwestern town in so many ways, not the least of which was to accept a same sex couple as an important, productive part of their community. This is their true story: The Fabulous Men of Mineral Point.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 7-31 by Pride Films & Plays at Piccolo Theater, 600 Main St., Evanston, IL.
Tickets are available by calling 800-737-0984 or by going to www.pridefilmsandplays.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com