Regional Reviews: Seattle
A Strong Ensemble Powers Arouet's The Temperamentals
In 1950 Harry Hay (Daniel Wood), a British born teacher and Communist party member, helped form a group, later called the Mattachine Society, devoted to the welfare and protection of "temperamentals" (Hay's term for gay men). His principal collaborator was his lover at the time, Rudi Gernreich (Jaryl Allen Draper), a Hollywood costume designer and Viennese Jew who escaped the Holocaust and who, years later, would become famous as the creator of the topless bathing suit. Gernreich was smitten with Hay's idealism, but was lured away from politics (and Hay) by his professional ambitions. In the play he has wonderful moments with the director Vincente Minnelli (portrayed by Greg Bee, who also appears as one of the Mattachine founders, Chuck Rowland, and others). Mr. Bee doesn't try to impersonate the effete Minnelli (who was coming off several years of marriage to gay icon Judy Garland), but he effectively articulates the necessity of a life deep in the closet to advance a career.
Director Arauz's cast is, to a man, excellent. Wood's portrayal of Hay paints him as a bombastic, passionate, not particularly likable yet magnetic figure who eventually leaves a business-suited heterosexual façade to be true to himself, donning a wildly colored shawl in the process. It is notable that Hay left the Mattachine society after a few years when his Communist background became too problematic for conservative group members, but he later founded the still active Radical Faeries group.
Draper subtly captures Gernreich's European gentility and provides a perfect, subdued foil for Wood's more outspoken Hay. Will Halsey is gives an energized, scene-stealing performance as the showy Bob Hull, the on-again off-again partner of Bee's Chuck Rowland. Justin Ison delivers a compelling turn as the conservative Dale Jennings, whose willingness to fight charges brought against him in a men's room results in a small but vital early gay rights victory. The cast also shines in an act two dream sequence in which they, in mild drag, depict women in Hay's life. Though written with traces of misogyny, the cast overcomes this and makes the sequence a highpoint of the production.
The Temperamentals was eye-opening to me as a gay American whose adult life began just a few years post-Stonewall, and is a must-see for others, most especially I would think young gays who are growing up in a United States where gay rights, including gay marriage, grow stronger on a daily basis.
The Temperamentals runs through May 25th at the Ballard Underground, 2220 N.W. Market Street. Tickets are $12-$20. For information call 800-838-3006 or arouet.us.
- David Edward Hughes