THE TEMPERAMENTALS (Regional Premiere)by Jon Maran
Direction & Scenic Design by Bruce R. Coleman
Lighting Design by Amanda West
Costume Design by Suzi Cranford
Sound Design by Andi Allen
Multimedia Design by Chris Robinson
Paul J. Williams
Reviewed Performance: 10/7/2011
Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Theater Critic/Editor/Founder, THE COLUMN. Member, AMERICAN THEATRE CRITICS ASSOCIATION for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Gay rights drastically changed the landscape during the last ten years. Just last month history was made when the United States policy "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) initiated in December 1993 was finally repealed in September. The origin of this bill was a compromise of sorts by then President Bill Clinton. In a difficult political battle, he finally conceded to a compromise agreement with the leaders of the various military branches. But the DADT policy created more problems, at times meeting with horrific results such as the brutal, senseless killing of gay infantry soldier Barry Winchell. This policy brewed into a sadistic witch hunt within the military, causing many outstanding, loyal, highly decorated gay soldiers to either get discharged or leave the military. Many European countries (England, France, etc.) have openly gay soldiers serve in their branches with no problems whatsoever. Finally gay men and women today can serve our country without this policy no longer holding them back or forbidding them to fight for America's freedom just because of who they are.
Another hot topic is that of gay marriage. This surely will be one of the most discussed and argued issues in the upcoming presidential election. Some states such as New York have passed gay legal marriage. Gay men and women can now also adopt children. Many do and provide loving environments for them. Then there is of course the historic Stonewall riot that began the gay rights movement.
Even with these great strides towards gay rights and freedom, homophobia and atrocious attacks (both verbal and physical) have fell upon gay men and women. This past year we have seen the deplorable up rise in gay bullying of young children, teens, and college kids. These bullies have used today's technology as their weapon of choice, not just their fists. Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and the internet have been the bully's tools to verbally lash out on those who they felt were gay or "different". These poor, innocent teens and children ended up committing suicide just to free themselves from all the torture, pain and hatred forced upon them.
Take for example what just happened to 14 year old Jamey Rodemeyer. This quiet teen known to have a huge, loving heart and spirit was so viciously attacked by bullies at his school that he killed himself on September 18th.
As if that was not heart wrenching enough, Rodemeyer's parents allowed their daughter to attend the homecoming school dance (she and her brother attended the same school). They said their daughter was texting back to them that she was having a great time when all of a sudden a Lady Gaga song came on. Jamey's friends cheered his name (Lady Gaga had been made aware of how big a fan Jamey was of her, so at her recent concert she dedicated a song to him and told the audience that bullying should become a hate crime put into law).
But as the song went on at the dance, the very same bullies that caused Jamey to kill himself started to chant, "You're better off dead. We're glad you're dead."
NOTE: To view his parents on the TODAY show regarding this, here is the link.
Friday night, October 7th, was Uptown Players' opening night of the regionalpremiere of THE TEMPERAMENTALS. This play chronicles the founding of the Mattachine Society, the first sustained lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender rights organization in the United States. The title is drawn from the early 20th Century's use of the word "temperamental" as slang for "homosexual".
To add emphasis to the subject, opening night occurred on the anniversary of the cruel, hideous beating and killing of Matthew Wayne Shepard. He was a student at the University of Wyoming who was tortured and murdered near Laramie, Wyoming, in October 1998. He was left to die tied to a fence where a cyclist found him on October 7th. His death, the behavior of Laramie's citizens, as well as the nation's, was transformed into the play THE LARAMIE PROJECT.
Playwright Marans penned for THE TEMPERMENTALS a very fascinating, historical piece that had at times an aura of being a documentary. All these years I, like many others, considered the Stonewall riots as the start of gay liberation and the battle for equal rights. We were wrong. It truly began in the 1950's with five gay men. Harry Hay, a teacher who happened to be a communist was married and gay, and had written a manifesto to give gays equal rights. He felt so strongly that gays were treated as an "oppressed sexual minority" - a theme that caused major problems with the remaining four original founding members and their colleagues. Hay was also having an affair with costume/fashion designer Rudi Gernreich. He was an Austrian who would later become a fashion icon for creating the topless swimsuit, and in 1960 the "no bra". These two lovers recruited Bob Hull, a flamboyant former student of Hay's, Chuck Rowland, who was Bob's off and on boyfriend, and Dale Jennins, a carnie who also had an affair with Bob.
Marans piece is riveting in its storytelling. I never knew about Jennins' historic court room trial. He had been arrested for allegedly fondling an undercover cop at Westlake Park (which later was named MacArthur Park). But Jennins was very adamant that he never touched the cop. So it was a 1950's gay man's word against that of a Los Angeles Police officer. The outcome of the trial was indeed historic.
This whole time I thought that the infamous McCarthy communist witch hunt fell to only Hollywood folk. His creation of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) took down ten screenwriters. Hay was also called to testify, but was it for creating a gay political organization? You have to see the play to find out!
The play overflows with historical facts that superbly connect and weave into the lives of these five men. We see how the creation of this grass roots organization affects the relationship between Harry & Rudy as well. This balances the piece by giving us a complicated love affair that struggles so hard to survive.
It is a mesmerizing play that Uptown Players has turned into one of the very best dramatic plays they have produced.
At the helm is Director Bruce Coleman who also designed the set. This might well be Coleman's finest achievement as a director. The staging and blocking is fresh, smooth, visually enthralling, and drenched in dramatic, rich subtext. It's rare to see blocking in plays that makes the movement truthful and purposeful. It's more than "go stage left to balance actor A" staging. Coleman instead gives his actors staging and blocking that gives the audience natural character development and very interesting subtext to their emotions. Coleman knows exactly where to put the dramatic pauses. He is aware that exposition needs to keep moving briskly while allowing the dramatic arc and pause room to breathe, expand, and flow through the audience. He pays great attention to period detail, crafting the look and performances to transport the audience smack dab into 1950. Coleman's direction here is the soul, heart and magic that makes this production glow so brightly in its artistry.
Coleman's scenic design consists of a basic, massive wall of cubes and squares in specs of grey, black, and white. These serve as screens for Chris Robinson's superlative multimedia design. Throughout the evening there is an endless array of photographs, cartoons and images that are flashed on the wall floating above the cast's heads. They serve in letting the audience know where they are physically in the scene. But they also work as another layer of subtext for both the audience and the cast. The final montage will indeed put a lump in your throat. Robinson's design here is peerless and fits so beautifully within Coleman's direction and set design. Assisting both designers is Andi Allen's sound design. She (which I'm sure Coleman had a hand in) has strewn together a plethora of songs that are pieced together like ornate crystal. Amanda West's lighting design is visually exciting, giving the actors dramatic auras around them in several key scenes. In some scenes the actors go rapidly from one location to another, and West's design follows them with effortless, spot on shards of light. Rounding out the design is Suzi Cranford's pristine costume design. The suits are perfectly tailored to fit each actor like a second skin. Her palette also follows the scenic design with shades of grey, black, and white.
Gregory Lush delivers a prodigious, transcendent performance as Harry Hay. Lush carries the heart and soul of the piece, achieving radiant success. He uses his tools and craft as an actor to construct a complex, multi-layered character whose strengths and flaws are vividly exposed to the audience. Lush is so in the moment in every single scene, in every line, and in every movement. Thanks to Lush's work you truly understand and see Harry's journey that is both grand and heartbreaking. Lush's dynamic stage presence never dims but instead gets brighter and brighter as the evening progresses. The dramatic arc written for Hay in the second act is where Lush shows the audience why he is one of the finest actors in the DFW acting pool. He peels layer after layer of heart pounding, emotional subtext so powerful to see unfold before your eyes. Lush displays gut wrenching, emotional realism in Hay's battle for gay rights, his manifesto, his creation of the Mattachine Society, the loss of his marriage, and the collapse of his relationship with Rudi. Lush delivers one of those performances that audiences will be talking beyond the production's closing, it is that remarkable.
Montgomery Sutton is another major stand out from this cast, portraying Rudi Gernreich, Hay's lover and co founder of the Mattachine Society. Sutton has to deliver his performance with an Austrian accent. When it comes to accents, it can be the death sentence for many actors. They can come off forced, fake, or they lose the accent altogether. Sutton avoids this entirely. The accent is clean, crisp, and sounds very natural to the ear. He never once drops the accent. Sutton has the facial features and look that make him seem as if he stepped right off the MAD MEN set. Even though Rudi lives in the world of fashion (he designed for MGM and several major stars before creating his own fashion line), Sutton did not portray the role flamboyant. This makes perfect sense as you see how Rudi develops both as a man and a lover within the piece. Sutton possesses dazzling stage presence. His acting choices always hit the emotional mark with magnificent results. He uses both his body and face to give the audience full exposure into Rudi's heart and mind. Just watch what he does in the courtroom scene as proof of that. Sutton's second act scene work is utterly outstanding to watch unravel on stage.
Sutton and Lush both have exceptional, very believable chemistry as lovers. They play off each other so exquisitely and both provide a solid emotional road to take the audience on.
Rounding out the cast is a trio of actors who play a myriad of various characters weaving in and out of the lives of Harry and Rudi. This trio consists of Kevin Moore, Paul J. Williams, and Daylon Walton.
Each actor has their moment in the spotlight. Moore relishes in the flamboyance and humor as Bob Hull. Moore in fact provides the laughter that balances out all the dramatic intensity and arc within the piece. He shines brightly in this role.
Paul J. Williams has the difficult task of portraying the only famous person the audience might know, that of Vincente Minnelli. He is the great director who helmed many of MGM's greatest musicals including the Oscar winning AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. He of course was married to Judy Garland and is Liza's father. Williams alas Slightly falters in this role. He doesn't fully grasp the vocal tone of Minnelli nor his mannerisms. Williams does however recover with his portrayal of Chuck Rowland. Rowland happens to be Bob's off and on boyfriend. Williams is known for his comedic skills, so it was quite refreshing to see him tackle a dramatic role. While his character is humorous, he handles a dramatic arc interwoven within that character with solid compassion and restraint.
The surprise performance that became the scene stealer of the evening is Daylon Walton. This incredibly talented actor delivered solid work in past productions I've seen him in but here he is utterly extraordinary. He takes each character assigned to him and metamorphoses them with very different and unique voices, body postures, and mannerisms. Just compare his incredible transition from fashion designer Nigel Butler to Dale Jennins, the rough trade carnie who is gay. Walton's performance as Jennins is sensational. His subtext and acting tools create a fully fleshed out character the audience feels so much for. We see his heart break when Bob dumps him. But we also see how he struggles deeply on having to go to trial and tell the world he is gay-remember this is 1950!
Another powerful scene for Walton is when the group resigns. Walton strikes a vivid emotional core in that scene. He never once drops character so you constantly keep your attention on him because of his tour de force work in this role. Walton is a revelation in this production.
All five actors as a unit work beautifully together. When they are all on stage in several key scenes they all play off each other like a well oiled machine. They never once drop the "ball of energy" between them. They are all in perfect sync with both the pace and the emotions of the piece.
This is much more than merely a gay play. Marans has written a very captivating docudrama that goes beyond the rights of only gays. It's a piece that speaks to any person who feels persecuted, attacked or ostracized for who they are or how they look.
Earlier this season Uptown Players produced one of the best musicals of the year with NEXT TO NORMAL. Now to that accolade they can add one of the best produced plays of the year with THE TEMPERAMENTALS.
Kalita Humphreys Theater
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. at Blackburn, Dallas TX 75219
Through October 23, 2011
Shows are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm.
A special performance will take place on Thursday, October 20th at 8 pm.
Tickets are $25-$35 and can be purchased by calling 214-219-2718 or online at www.uptownplayers.org.