|Zachary Burrell, Scott Goodman, Christopher Gilbert,
Obadiah Ewing-Roush & Ted Lesley in The Temperamentals.
Photo courtesy of Pandora Productions.
Written by Jon Marans
Directed by Michael Drury
Reviewed by Keith Waits.
Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Art has an ability to connect us to the past, and theatre can be particularly adept at accomplishing this. The Temperamentals tells the story of homosexual men taking the first steps to open up their lives, lay claim to an identity, and establish a civil rights movement years before terms such as “civil rights,” “gay” or to be “out” had entered the vernacular. These events occurred in the early 1950s, nearly two decades before the Stonewall riots in 1969 officially began the modern gay rights movement.
Director-Producer Michael Drury provides a useful program insert detailing some of the history and including a timeline stretching from 1909 to today. It provides valuable context, but the play itself does a splendid job of connecting to the audience, and the relevance of the story to the gay rights issues being aggressively debated in public today is clear to anyone who’s paying attention. The depiction of Harry Hay, who founded the Los Angeles-based group and labeled it the Mattachine Society, along with Rudi Gernreich, Dale Jennings, Chuck Rowland & Bob Hull, as men in grey business suits and conservative haircuts (the period details are accurate but presented in an unfussy, matter-of-fact fashion) underscores the boldness of taking such action in the repressive social atmosphere of the Eisenhower era. This was a courageous fight that seems largely forgotten.
Not unexpectedly, the first act is burdened slightly by the expository demands of character introductions and establishing context required by the docudrama format. But the playwright interjects just enough humor and provides the inherent drama of the courtroom. This was a time when a man could be arrested for the suspicion of “lewd conduct” with another man in public, and the script focuses on such a trial as the intermission approaches. Later, we witness the sad dissolution of the original group as it is replaced by others who, the play strongly suggests, lacked Hay’s bold resolve.
The verbosity of the text threatens to drown the audience in detail, and the script is nothing if not thorough; yet the seriousness of purpose is balanced by the expert playing of the five-member ensemble. Zachary Burrell, Obadiah Ewing-Roush, Christopher Gilbert and Scott Goodman all do solid work, essaying the primary characters with great feeling. But the heart of the piece is in the performance of Ted Lesley as Harry Hay. Mr. Lesley is one of the smartest actors in town, and his work here is certainly sharp and well-calculated. But he also reaches an emotional depth, particularly in the play’s final moments, that would qualify this as among his finest work. It is nothing less than a triumph.
The design work carries the customary Pandora polish, with efforts from Theresa Began (Lighting), Donna Lawrence-Downs (Costumes) and Laura Ellis (Sound) that combine to create the 1950s evocatively, and without clichés.
The Temperamentals is well-researched and forceful in its depiction of an important but little-known slice of American history. But its final impact comes from how successfully it establishes a relationship between the audience and the individual characters onstage. For these men, and for all that followed, the fight was deeply personal, and so ultimately is this play.
March 22- April 11, 2011
At The MeX
The Kentucky Center
517 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202