Your average looking guy, not effeminate in the least – a Communist married for over ten years who has children and is living in California suddenly decides in 1950 to admit to his being “different” as he falls in love with Rudi Gernreich – the designer (before he became famous). They recruit three other men of the same persuasion – calling themselves “Temperamentals”. They unanimously swear to execute a Manifesto which asserts that they are not to be considered second class citizens anymore, aiming for security and equality of rights under the law. And thus the Mattachine Society was born – the first gay rights organization in America.
His name was Harry Hay. This is all before Stonewall. This is a true story. The play The Temperamentals by Jon Marans has reopened at New World Stages – playing at Stage 5.
Somehow the story doesn’t seem as important as it should despite its importance in gay history. This small group of brave men initiated the gay activist movement but the play is more a history lesson and lecture than a theatrical event. Although director Jonathan Silverstein does his best with the aid of music and lights and moving chairs around the barren and depressing stage to suggest the many locales.
As another theatrical device, Jon Marans has attempted to divide speeches among his five actors to make them well, more theatrical but the play just never seems quite compelling enough to warrant two and a half hours worth of political rhetoric albeit with humor, intelligence and bravado.
Once we know their problem it becomes repetitive. It’s a long time before one of them is arrested for public lewdness with the police report stating that there were “No Humans Involved” sparking the transformation of Mr. Hays who comes out from behind his mask dropping all pretenses, donning a ladies shawl and openly admitting he is a homosexual. Thomas Jay Ryan gives a masterful, insightful, conflicted and nuanced performance as Harry Hay. His scenes with Michael Urie as Rudi are the best of the play with Mr. Urie giving us a charming, bemused and arrogant portrayal of the designer hungry for fame – willing to do anything to get to the top. Two electrifying performances. Backed up by Arnie Burton, Matthew Schneck and Sam Breslin Wright who play multiple characters to the hilt. Mr. Burton is especially remarkable as Vincent Minnelli.
If anything, Rudi’s story becomes more interesting – perhaps because as a European he could get away with a lot more than his American counterparts. Perhaps because it is the more colorful role. Perhaps it’s just that Mr. Urie is so handsome, honest and magnetic.
Every gay person should have an immense sense of gratitude to these groundbreaking men who dared to come out at a time when even looking at another man or secretly meeting with a lover could mean arrest and defilement. The small tremors that they created started the gay activist avalanche. Today’s gays, I’m afraid, care only about the here and now and not the past when if not for the past they would not be enjoying the here and now. www.newworldstages.com www.thetemperamentals.com
Photo: Joan Marcus