Michael Urie, Thomas Jay Ryan in THE TEMPERAMENTALS
You need to beg, borrow or steal a ticket to the sold-out run of John Marans’ play THE TEMPERAMENTALS (Barrow Group Studio Theater), which, sadly, is ending this weekend and absolutely should be extended as it is, simply, the finest new play of the year so far. It recounts the founding of the Mattachine Society, a pioneering gay activist group founded by lawyer Harry Hay nearly twenty years before the so-called groundbreaking 1969 Stonewall uprising. Taking its name from a medieval secret society which favored “eccentric” behavior among men, what is largely unknown today is that its co-founder was Hay’s lover, Rudi Gernreich, then a struggling costume designer who went on to international fame and a solid place in fashion history as the creator of the topless bathing suit in the ’60s, remaining in the closet until his death in 1985. Scrupulously researched and written with a sophistication, sensitivity and speed which sets it head and shoulders above such other critically acclaimed concurrent productions like RUINED or GOD OF CARNAGE, it provides both a rich history immersion as well as a deeply human, elementally stirring emotional experience.
Harry Hay (1912-2002)
Rudi Gernreich (1922-85)
The very word “”homosexual” is whispered, nay, hissed, throughout the play, conveying with brutal accuracy the abject secrecy and fear which was once, on at least some level, every gay man’s lot in life. “Temperamental” was a code word used among gays to describe themselves at the time, fearful of straight repercussions, not ot mention the law, itself. Many of the scenes take place in The Chuckwagon, a nominally gay Los Angeles bar, and, under Jonathan Silverstein’s sensationally kinetic direction, a miracle of theatricality is produced yet again on a bare New York stage no bigger than a breadbox, with the only props being a few period vinyl upholstered steel office chairs, breathlessly creating an entire vibrant period world. After suffering through countless, well-intentioned but frankly abysmal gay plays, one wants to shout hosannahs over ‘s savvy, succinct writing, which encompasses such effective fillips as having all the characters recite their backgrounds in fractured yet seamless tandem monologues which express both the difference and utter sameness of the experience of growing up queer and misunderstood in a very dark age. The tensions between gays and fellow Communist party members, gays and women (especially wives and mothers) and, ultimately, gays and gays (with Mattachine Society infighting which eventually caused Hay’s departure from the group he’d started) are all incisively addressed.
The five member cast dazzles with their commitment and versatility, playing numerous roles. Front and center is Thomas Jay Ryan as Hay, bringing a convincing ’50s Brooks Brothers-ish Everyman quality at odds with his radical Communist beliefs which somehow managed to segue into gay activism. He manages to make Hay’s incessant single-minded pedanticism amusing and endearing even while he infuriates, and is deadpan hilarious as Hay’s final flamboyantly shawl-wearing future founder of the Radical Faeries activist group. Michael Urie, from UGLY BETTY, completely fits Hay’s initial, infatuated description of him as a cameo, so creamily pretty is he, but along with his consisderable physical allure, he has major acting chops as Gernreich. His dead-on Viennese accent enriches, adding both humor and eccentric individualism to his impassioned characterization of a deeply romantic soul at odds with his own driving ambition. He’s frustrated in scenes with Harry, who, although determinedly queer, is all too conscious of the pressures of a hetero world, shying away from physical demonstrations of affection. At the same time, he’s very attentive to the stay-in-the-closet career advice of his studio boss, Vincente Minnelli, who is interpreted with a perfect synthesis of mandarin power and sissiness by Tom Beckett, in a peerless cameo that I’d even recommend Liza seeing, if only to evoke Papa once more. Marans’ writing is never more savvy than when Hay refers to Minnelli’s famous erstwhile wife as “Her.” She was, of course, Judy Garland, which incites Hay, who was very straitlaced before he discovered his inner androgyne, into an hilarious monologue decrying the excessive behavior of queens who go on and on about her every mannerism and vocal prowess.
John Burnside, Hay’s partner for nearly 40 years and co-founder of the Radical Faeries, who died last year at 91
Matthew Schneck brings a more traditional campy outrageousness to promiscuous, bigoted but lovable Mattachine member Bob Hull, and Sam Breslin Wright has a touchingly real street quality as former cop Dale Jennings, whose arrest via entrapment by a policeman in a public bathroom triggers the Hay’s landmark legal case wherein the love that dared not speak, finally, finally did.
Peggy Moffitt, supermodel and Gernreich muse, in his topless bathing suit
This just in from KPPM Press Office:
By popular and critical demand the MAN underdog production of “The Temperamentals” by Jon Marans, will reopen on Wednesday, June 10th for a limited four week run Off Broadway at the larger (same location) TBG Theater, 312 West 36 Street 3rd Floor, NYC. Previews began April 30, 2009 for the limited engagement through May 18th in the intimate studio theatre and all performances were sold out in advance with a waiting list for all the shows. Thomas Jay Ryan plays Harry Hay and Michael Urie (TV’s “Ugly Betty”) is Rudi Gernreich, with Tom Beckett, Matthew Schneck, Sam Breslin Wright completing the cast. The acclaimed play is directed by Jonathan Silverstein.
for more info: