June 28, 1969. It’s a hot and muggy night and the gays and lesbians of Greenwich Village New York City have been shattered by the death of their beloved icon Judy Garland – Patron Saint of all those who are searching for love and sex and drugs and a good time to blow off steam in a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn.
They have been under the thumb of the cops and the mob and are discriminated against and taunted and brutally beaten and embarrassed by having their names printed in the paper if they get arrested during one of the raids on the bar by the local pigs.
That night they finally had had enough and fought back thus starting the gay revolution. We’ve come a long way but people are still committing suicide when their sexual orientation is discovered or they are dismissed by their families and bullying is on the rise for those who would just be themselves.
In Ike Holter’s uneven yet emotionally grabbing new play, HIT THE WALL, he puts us right in the middle of it all at the small, intimate Barrow Street Theatre that somehow manages to present the facts with a cross section of the gay community capturing the essence and mythology of that infamous night.
Director Eric Hoff has made great use of the small space and with the help of his fight director J. David Brimmer has staged the play beautifully and brutally. The dance sequence in the bar with its loud music and strobe lights is particularly affecting as the half naked men go wild when the raid commences and flows out onto the streets of Greenwich Village igniting what was to become the beginning of the movement for gays and lesbians to be treated equally as human beings and not as outcasts.
It was a time where you could be arrested for wearing inappropriate clothing – women dressed as men and drag queens were the favorite targets of the cops. One of the most terrifying scenes has the cop (Matthew Greer) interrogating a butch dyke, Peg (a terrific Rania Salem Manganaro) and Carson (the outstanding Nathan Lee Graham) who has been mourning the death of Garland in full drag and physically assaulting them. It truly is frightening and in your face theatre.
One might argue that the characters are stereotypes. There is the Newbie (Nick Bailey) an innocent youth who manages to be picked up by the guy in a suit A-Gay (Sean Allan Krill), loose his virginity, take cocaine and run naked through the streets brandishing a garbage can all in one day.
There is the butch dyke, her straight laced sister Madeline (Jessica Dickey) who attempts to talk Peg out of being who she is, offering money and therapy to cure her while she avoids those two friends sitting on the stoop Tano (Arturo Soria) and Mika (Gregory Haney) who are very territorial with sharp tongues and fingers that snap. We have Roberta (Carolyn Michelle Smith) trying to rally all for her cause of women’s rights. And finally the drag queen Carson who is at the center of this docu-drama holding forth with humor, toughness, eloquence and elegance who captures the heart of Cliff (Ben Diskant) a back pack traveling hippie with a stash of weed.
A trio of Hippie musicians Jonathan Mastro, Ray Rizzo and Indigo Street add guitar, bongo beats and tambourine accompaniment to composer Dan Lipton’s original music.
It is a true ensemble piece filled with passion and quite unsettling and exciting to witness. HIT THE WALL demands to be seen. Ninety minutes straight through.
www.BarrowStreetTheatre.com Photos: Matthew Murphy
OFF-BROADWAY’S NEW PLAY
“H I T T H E W A L L”
LAUNCHES TALKBACK SERIES
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 20TH
AT BARROW STREET THEATRE
FIRST TALKBACK TO BE MODERATED BY
WBAI RADIO HOST
PANEL INCLUDES ORIGINAL JUNE 28, 1969 STONEWALL ACTIVISTS
DANNY GARVIN & MARTIN BOYCE, WITH COMPLETE CAST & DIRECTOR ERIC HOFF
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