Being a “Temperamental” meant being a homosexual in the 1950s; it was part of the secret coded language that homosexuals used to refer to each other. The Temperamentals is the name of the final production of the Blank Theatre’s 20th anniversary season. This is an important play because playwright Jon Morans gives us a detailed and nuanced look into what it meant to be homosexual in the Eisenhower years. It is also important because it dramatizes the first flowering of gay resistance and organizing in America.
Most people think that Gay Liberation started at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan. That rebellion was important of course, but there were people who tried to organize and rally for gay rights long before those eventful nights in New York. Before Stonewall there was the Mattachine Society. The play traces its founding and eventual coming apart by following the relationship of two men, communist Harry Hay and his Viennese sometimes–boyfriend, the famous designer Rudi Gernreich (of the topless bathing suit fame).
Jon Marans is known for his international hit and Pulitzer Prize-winning play Old Wicked Songs. Michael Matthews is this production’s director. Matthews is known for his acclaimed productions at the Celebration Theatre (Los Angeles’ oldest GLBT theatre company), Take Me Out, Haram Iran, and The Women of Brewster Place. Mathews has gathered a quite a distinguished cast for this outing. Erich Bergen of Jersey Boys fame plays the effeminate Gernreich. Dennis Christopher (perhaps best known for the film Breaking Away for which he received the British Academy Award (BAFTA) and a Golden Globe Nomination) plays the irascible engine for the Mattachine Society. Mark Shunock plays a variety of rather straight-laced characters; he is known as a former member of the Canadian Hockey League and for playing Timon in The Lion King on Broadway. Patrick Scott Lewis plays Dale Jennings and a host of other characters. John Tartaglia, who won a Tony nomination for the roles of Princeton and Rod in Avenue Q, plays the flamboyant Bob Hull and others.
It is the details of these different characters’ lives that is the substance of the play. While each of these actors is good inis own right, they had not coalesced as actors on press night. But I am sure that given playing time, they will become a unit. Already in the second act they seemed to have been more relaxed with each other.
The Temperamentals will play at the Blank Theatre’s Second Stage until May 22.