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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Hard Fight for Gay Rights in ’50s America

Theatrical Tendencies presents ‘The Temperamentals’

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 It’s all too easy to separate the history of gay rights into pre- and post-Stonewall eras. The fight for gay rights, however, did not begin in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn. Theatrical Tendencies sheds some light on some of the earlier struggles for equal rights with its staging of the Jon Marans drama The Temperamentals. It’s the story of the Mattachine Society, a group dedicated to improving the rights of homosexuals founded in 1950.

Mark R. Neufang delivers fascinating conflict and nuance to his portrayal of political activist Harry Hay. Neufang has a nuanced hold on the gradual development of Hay’s personal transformations as he goes from being a closeted married man looking for equal rights to fully embracing his identity and becoming a vocal activist.

Neufang plays this transformation in the context of a complex relationship between Hay and his lover Rudi Gernreich, played by Joshua Devitt. Devitt is a charismatic presence onstage. There are moments between Devitt and Neufang that reach into a deeply conflicted interpersonal dynamic. The two are simplifying that dynamic for the stage in a way that allows the audience to peer into it and marvel for a few scenes. Love during oppression is never easy.

The story is brought to an intimate studio theater stage without much in the way of production. Director/Designer Mark E. Schuster draws all attention to the social and intellectual interactions of people struggling on so many different levels. The full depth of every single moment in Marans’ script isn’t quite realized here, but the overall picture this production delivers is a truly captivating one.

The Temperamentals runs through March 22, at Soulstice’s Keith Tamsett Theater, 3770 S. Pennsylvania Ave. For tickets, call 414-541-6240 or visit theatricaltendencies.com.