Elaine Magree describes a day in the life of a Bay Area hospice nurse during the AIDS epidemic in “Holding the Edge” at The Marsh. (Courtesy David Allen)

Elaine Magree describes a day in the life of a Bay Area hospice nurse during the AIDS epidemic in “Holding the Edge” at The Marsh. (Courtesy David Allen)

‘Holding the Edge’ a touching look at living and dying

In “Holding the Edge,” her one-woman show at The Marsh in San Francisco, Elaine Magree tells a story of one particularly memorable day decades ago in the life of a hospice nurse in the East Bay. She’s riveting.

It was a day when her experience of death was political as well as personal.

It was Jan. 28, 1986. It was the day the Challenger space shuttle exploded, and for Elaine, a lesbian activist, the day President Ronald Reagan, who canceled his State of the Union address, proved his lack of regard for people suffering from AIDS.

She was among the “same 100 lesbians who did everything together” – including, she says, “taking care of friends – some of them who didn’t want us in their bars and restaurants.”

But “Holding the Edge” isn’t harsh, bitter or overly angry.

Illustrating the invaluable contributions of hospice workers, Magree is smart, caring and kind.

She’s also charming and funny, as she answers her pager, calls her answering service from a pay phone (she knows all of their locations, and has one she calls Lauren Bacall), and uses her four-color nurse pen to jot down notes on a pad about her work day.

Wearing a stethoscope and belt with medical supplies, she visits L.C. Smith, dying of AIDS (she portrays him) and his self-described “fairy friend Ember,” who’s dressed like Christa McAuliffe as the shuttle launch broadcast begins on TV. Magree portrays Ember, too.

While not entirely convincing, Magree’s characterizations in the 75-minute show are fine enough.

Yet she’s best as herself, as she tells the audience the difference between plain Elaine and nurse Elaine, how nurse Elaine knows that “crying doesn’t get it done.”

She knows “how to open up a channel” between herself and her patients, and she explains that she tries not to say “I’m sorry” because that moves the focus from the patient to her.

In perhaps the most moving scene, nurse Elaine calmly answers L.C.’s question, “What’s it like to die?” as the TV screen shows the shuttle in flames.

By the end of the day — which involved two patient deaths and an encounter with an inebriated, agitated street person with AIDS — Magree is at a demonstration, following a crowd down Market Street (after Reagan’s speech was scratched) and participating in a die-in.

With the spirit of humanity that permeates “Holding the Edge,” Elaine even gets her 21st-century audience to join those 1986 chants in the Castro: “They see it in the news, your gloves don’t match your shoes.”

Holding the Edge
Where: Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays, 5 p.m. Saturdays; closes April 8
Tickets: $25 to $100
Contact: (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org
1986AIDSChallengerElaine MagreeHolding the Edgehospice nurseMarshRonald ReaganTheater

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
City College union deal staves off layoffs, class cuts

One year agreement allows community college time to improve its finances

Supervisor Catherine Stefani is moving forward with legislation to ban "ghost guns" in San Francisco  (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner file photo)
Supervisor wants SF to be first in California to ban ‘ghost gun’ kits

Police are finding more untraceable firearms on the streets as shootings rise

A Homeless Outreach Team member speaks with homeless people along Jones Street in the Tenderloin on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Breed proposes another street outreach team to divert calls away from police

San Francisco would launch a new street outreach team to respond to… Continue reading

Rendering of proposed ball park at Howard Terminal (Courtesy photo)
MLB instructs A’s to begin exploring other markets while still pursuing downtown ballpark

Major League Baseball announced Tuesday that it has instructed the Oakland Athletics… Continue reading

San Francisco Giants short stop Mauricio Dubon (1) breaks his bat on a ground out in the 4th inning against the Miami Marlins at Oracle Park on April 22, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photography by Chris Victorio | Special to the S.F. Examiner).
Wood, bench power Giants past Rangers

After a bullpen implosion cost Alex Wood a win in his prior… Continue reading

Most Read