Brutally poignant drama a vital must-see
|About Face Theatre presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
The sad irony regarding The Temperamentals is how achingly relevant it feels today. Though Jon Marans‘ acclaimed off-Broadway play takes place in the early 1950s, many themes ring true today, most significantly the concept that being oneself is a radical act. With a frightening new administration running our country, most anyone who’s not a straight white cisgender man (bonus points if he’s rich) is feeling unsafe. The majority of minority groups are deeply afraid of losing their civil rights. For this reason and many others, About Face’s latest is one of the most important plays running in Chicago right now, and an absolute must-see.
The Temperamentals opens in a Los Angeles diner, where two men in suits are having an intense conversation. Harry Hay (Kyle Hatley) is a music professor and former Communist, while Rudi Gernreich (Lane Anthony Flores) is an Austrian Jewish immigrant and movie costume designer. Their secret? They’re in love, and they’re gay, or “temperamental” as the slang goes. Inspired by the recent Progressive Party presidential candidate, Hay wants equal rights for homosexual men. The lovers join forces and form the Mattachine Society, the first sustained gay rights organization in United States history. But as the Society grows, so does its conflicts, and when Rudi is offered a major career opportunity he may have to choose between work and love.
The Mattachine Society is largely downplayed in LGBTQ history – most will point to Stonewall and ACT UP as early activism, though the Society predates Stonewall by almost two decades. Marans’ play deftly explores the difficulties of launching such an organization in the rigid post-war era of gray flannel suits and ultimate conformity. McCarthyism is in full swing, and Mattachine Society members can’t seem to agree whether or not to call themselves a “sexual minority,” as some don’t want to be associated with racial minorities. (Intersectionality was definitely not in play at this time.) And when Hay starts exploring a new way to accessorize, even fashionista Rudi wonders if he’s gone too far.
Andrew Volkoff’s direction of this brutally poignant script is intelligent and thoughtful, giving respect to the men’s struggles while acknowledging their complex viewpoints, some of which are problematic by today’s standards. These are real people, warts and all. Joe Schermoly, one of the city’s best and brightest scenic designers, perfectly sets the stage with simple, subtle white walls, a polished wood floor and chairs that serve a multitude of purposes. Combined with Mieka van der Ploeg’s neutral-heavy costume design, Becca Jeffords’ simple but dramatic lighting and Christopher Kriz’s original music, it’s like we’re watching a black and white movie.
The Temperamentals’ cast is perfect, from Alex Weisman’s trilling, trifling Bob Hull to Paul Fagen’s former unwitting Mattachine poster boy Dale Johnson. Rob Lindley brings much-needed humor as the uptight Chuck Rowland, Bob’s roommate and ex-lover. As Harry Hay, who fights his own domestic battles while fighting for his cause, Hatley is arresting and flawless. And Flores’ Gernreich, a man who knows oppression and fear better than anyone else in the Mattachine Society, is the show’s gifted, multidimensional heart and soul.
The Temperamentals is essential viewing for every LGBTQ individual, ally and theater fan in the city. Hunt for online discounts, scrape together your money, do whatever you must to see this vibrant and vital production. In highlighting a little-known historical event with big impact, About Face shows how far we have come as a society, and how much more work there is to be done.
The Temperamentals continues through February 18th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $40 (students & seniors: $20), and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through TheaterWit.org (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at AboutFaceTheatre.com. (Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Michael Brosilow
Paul Fagen (Dale Jennings & others), Lane Anthony Flores (Rudi Gernreich), Kyle Hatley (Harry Hay), Rob Lindley (Chuck Rowland & others), Alex Weisman (Bob Hull & others), Trevor Bates, William Burdin, Aaron Latterell (understudies)
behind the scenes
Andrew Volkoff (director), Joe Schermoly (set design), Becca Jeffords (lighting design), Christopher Kriz (original music, sound design), Mieka van der Ploeg (costume design), Lydia Hanchett (prop design), Aaron Benham (music director), Sarah Luse (stage manager), Adam Goldstein (dialect coach), Melissa Hubbert (assistant director), Sadie Tremblay (assistant sound design), Tracee Bear (assistant costume desig), Keira Fromm, Alex Weisman (casting), Majel Cuza (production manager), Andrew Glasenhart (technical director), Jessica Howe (scenic painter), Anna Micale (production assistant), Michael Brosilow (photographer)