The Temperamentals

By Jon Marans.

Directed by Andrew Volkoff.

Produced by About Face Theatre.

At Theater Wit, Chicago.

The word “temperamental” as slang for “homosexual” in the early 20th Century.

History of LGBT movements in the 1940-50’s explored through the relationships of its founders.

The Temperamentals  (2012) is a drama that is part love story and part historical drama set in the 1940-50’s in California. It chronicles the founding of the Mattachine Society, the first LGBT rights organization in the USA taking its title from the 1950’s slang for “homosexual.” It is also a profile of the founders and a love affair between two of the founding members: Harry Hay (Kyle Hatley) and Rudi Gemreich (Lane Anthony Flores).

Filled with low-key committed political activists with roots in the American Communist Party, the  Mattachine Society emerged as a group of gay men lead by the intense Harry Hay and his loyal lover Rudi Gernreich.  Hay’s recruitment initially for the Communist Party became la rights forum for the four gay men. These activists realized that their movement was more about protecting the rights of’ oppressed minorities, i.e. homosexuals than a  political movement. We see the underground bravery of the four especially when they champion the cause of Dale Jennings (Paul Fagen) who was entrapped by the LA police for  vagrancy and lewdness. Together with new members of the Mattachine Society Chuck Rowland (Rob Lindley) and Bob Hull (Alex Weisman), the group debated how to exert their cause.  Rowland and Hull pushed for a more conservative approach as they tried to keep the zealot Hay from trying too much too fast.

But when the society decided to help Dale Jennigs by having him challenge the arrest by bravely admitting that he was gay but arguing that he did nothing illegal as he was entrapped by the cops became a rallying point. With help from a fine lawyer, Jennings wins the case but the media ignores the story.

One of the things that The Temperamentals   does  so effectively is present the gray flannel suit conservative 1950’s society that made ‘coming out’ unacceptable and  a career destroyer. Even Harry Hay, who was married (to a woman) with children waited years before exhibiting his gayness.

As a play, playwright Jon Marans nicely mixes the traits of his characters, especially the love affair between Rudi and Harry with the struggles to organize and sustain a rights movement. We see the key characters (based on actual historical figures) as the try to balance their rights struggle with their need to survive in a hostile society. Filled with  truthful, often funny and heartwarming performances, The Temperamentals   is a worthy play with a terrific cast. I particularly admired the work by Kyle Hatley as the intense zealot and Lane Anthony Flores as the loyal, charming designer. The Temperamentals   is an important work that plays as engaging theatre.

Recommended.

Tom Williams.

Jeff Recommended.

At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL, call 773-975-8150, www.aboutfacetheatre.com, tickets $40, $20students.seniors, Wednesday thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm with added Feb 19 Saturday at 3pm, running time is 2hours 15 minutes with intermission.

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