Review: Hit the Wall (The Inconvenience & Chicago Commercial Collective)

| May 19, 2014
Daniel Desmarais stars in The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque)        
      
Hit the Wall

Written by Ike Holter   
Directed by Eric Hoff
at Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
thru May 25  |  tickets: $25   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
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An intensely ruthless and gorgeously realized historic drama

     

Desmond Gray, Manny Buckley, Jawshua Drumms, Steve Casillas and John Cicora in The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque)

    
The Inconvenience i/a/w Chicago Commercial Collective presents
    
Hit the Wall

Review by Catey Sullivan 

Here’s the thing about seismic historical events: The further away we get from them, the more we take them for granted. What was urgent, ground-breaking and society-shattering just a few years ago becomes taken for granted and then forgotten. Even the most breath-taking upheavals fade over time. Take, for example, Jiggly Caliente. Charged with a Gay History-themed challenge on Season 4 of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, the New York queen blankly asked "What’s a Stonewall?" Squirrelfriend was completely clueless about the trailblazing, game-changing Greenwich Village riots that launched the gay rights movement. Sadly, Miss Jiggly is probably not alone in her ignorance.

Sara Kerastas and Shannon Matesky in The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque)Nobody will be asking "what’s Stonewall"? after seeing Hit the Wall, a, full-throttle freight train of a production from The Inconvenience, now getting a remount from the Chicago Commercial Collective. Penned by Ike Holter and directed by Eric Hoff, Hit the Wall screams with a five-alarm urgency as it takes the audience through the riots that started on June 28, 1969 when a group of fed-up drag queens hanging out at the seedy Stonewall Inn decided to fight back against years of police harassment. Hit the Wall is at once shocking and heartbreaking as it follows a core group of queens, lesbians, twinks, and brutally homophobic closet cases as they navigate an unstoppable surge of rage, blood and defiance.

Holter’s drama plays more like a documentary than a traditional drama. Conversations overlap and pick up in mid-sentence as Holter allows the audience to eavesdrop on a day-in-the-life of the LGBT community teeming around the neighborhood centered at Christopher Street and the Stonewall Inn. In the confines of the Greenhouse Theater space, you can practically feel the heat steaming off the pavement.

The atmosphere is heightened by the raw clamor of an amped up three piece band (John Cicora, Ryan Murphy and Josh Lambert) serving up a soundscape that’s part punk, part rock and all fearsome clamor. The thrashing guitar and throbbing drums create an apt backdrop for a long, summer’s day journey into night that burns toward darkness like a fuse smoldering toward detonation.

At the hub of everything The Inconvenience does right is the theater’s ability to take a massive historical event and blaze it down to an instantly relatable, compulsively watchable, pile-driving drama that is urgently of-the-moment even though the story takes place almost 45 years ago. Credibly staging a riot is a formidable challenge, but thanks in large part to Erin Kimurray‘s frenzied choreography and Ryan Bourque‘s effectively violent fight choreography, the Inconvenience makes the Stonewall uprising terrifying, liberating and gut-wrenching.

Steve Casillas, Walter Briggs and Layne Manzer in The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque) The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque)
Daniel Desmarais, Desmond Gray and Steve Casillas in The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque) Shannon Matesky in The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque)
Manny Buckley and Steve Lenz in Hit the Wall at The InconvenienceThe Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque) Steve Casillas, Daniel Desmarais, Layne Manzer, Shannon Matesky and Walter Briggs in The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque)

Nothing is romanticized, yet some very romantic notions – hope, desire, intractable idealism – shine through with the intensity of a klieg light. The riots take on a aura of larger-than-life mythology to be sure, but The Inconvenience never loses sight of the human scale of things.

It’s the seamlessly effective cast that keeps that human scale front and center. All of the performances from the cast are relentlessly intense (and sometimes, incongruously hilarious). As a drag queen serving up eleganza realness, Manny Buckley is a stunner, a steel-spined warrior in a little black dress and tasteful heels. Buckley combines the traditional elements of femininity – he’s demur, beguiling and refined – with the focused, ruthless rage of a panther backed into a corner. He’s resplendent from start to finish. Just as effective is Sara Kerastas as Peg, an androgynous lesbian who endures almost unwatchable assault from a cop (Walter Briggs) who is absolutely terrifying in his violent bigotry. Peg’s later scenes with her estranged sister Madeline (Mary Williamson) will simultaneously break your heart and leave you boiling with anger. Shannon Matesky all but emanates sparks as a radical community organizer intent on changing the world, one pamphlet at a time.

The production is further enhances by Coral Gable‘s period-perfect costumes, Jeff Glass and Cassie Ming‘s fititngly dramatic lighting design and John Holt‘s minimalist, deeply evocative set.

Hit the Wall has been around for a while now – it premiered in Chicago two years ago, and then travelled to New York. If somehow you’ve managed to miss it, now’s your chance to see a seminal chapter of history leap to life with intensity, ruthlessness and gorgeously realized drama.

  
Rating: ★★★★
  
   

Hit the Wall continues through May 25th at Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map).  Tickets are $25, and are available by phone (773-404-7336) or online through Vendini.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at ChicagoCommercialCollective.com.

Steve Casillas, Desmond Gray, John Cicora, Layne Manzer and Daniel Desmarais in The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque)

Photos by Ryan Bourque 


     

artists

cast

Walter Briggs, Manny Buckley, Steve Casillas, Daniel Desmarais, Desmond Gray, Sara Kerastas, Steve Lenz, Layne Manzer, Shannon Matesky, Mary Williamson, Kamal Angelo Bolden, Luke Grimes, Daeshawna Cook, Aileen May.

behind the scenes

Eric Hoff (director), Josh Lambert and Ryan Murphy (composers), John Holt (scenic design), Coral Gable (costume design), Jeff Glass and Cassie Mings (co-lighting designers), Matt Chapman and Joe Court (co-sound designers), Molly Fitzmaurice (properties), John Cicora (music director), Ryan Bourque (fight chorepgraphy, photos), Erin Kilmurray (choreography), Jacob Stanton (assistant director), Christa van Baale (stage manager), Sarah Hoeferlin (assistant stage manager), Russell Goddard (sound engineer), Ellen Willett (production manager), Justin Snyder (technical director), Sarah Jo White (assistant costume designer), Christine Williams (production assistant), Ryan Stanfield (general management apprentice), Amadi Pate (company manager apprentice), Christine Williams (production assistant), Megna Snowder (master electrician), Amber Johnson (stage manager May 23 – 25).

Bradley Butterworth, Desmond Gray, Steve Casillas and John Cicora in The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque) Mary Williamson and Sara Kerastas in The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque)Manny Buckley, Daniel Desmarais, Mary Williamson and Walter Briggs in The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque)Shannon Matesky, John Cicora, Steve Lenz and Walter Briggs in The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque) Steve Casillas and Desmond Gray in The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque)Walter Briggs, Steve Lenz and Manny Buckley in The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque)Walter Briggs and Manny Buckley in The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque) Manny Buckley and Steve Lenz in The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial Collective's "Hit the Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque)

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Category: 2014 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, Chicago Commercial Collective, Extensions-Remounts, Greenhouse Theater Center, Inconvenience, The

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