BWW Review: HIT THE WALL at WaterTower Theatre
Last Monday night, the Addison Theatre Center was abuzz, eagerly anticipating the directorial debut of WaterTower Theatre's new Artistic director, Joanie Schultz and the play HIT THE WALL that she carried with her from her previous Chicago home, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. When the house opened, actors milled about the stage, an enthusiastic indie band jamming away behind them, casually greeting ticket buyers as they took their seats. And, although we weren't yet sure if we were there to witness humor or horror, we entered ready for a riot.
After a brief introduction of the company, the lights rise on a pair of "pocket gays," Tano and Mika (played full of sass by Joshua Gonzales and Rashaun Sibley) who throw several mouthfuls of shade on a hot 1969 New York afternoon. But they meet their match when they cross paths with a cross-dressing diva named Carson (Walter Lee), who is too torn up over the recent death of gay icon Judy Garland to tolerate the twinks. After a period of public morning, Carson and a new friend take in a drink at The Stonewall Inn, a safe haven and watering hole for LGBT folks of all shapes and sizes. But when the police target the nightclub, the men and women occupying the club aren't willing to walk out without a fight. What followed was a night of rioting. And the scariest thing about this story is that the event it details is true.
Although HIT THE WALL only highlights a glimpse of the full effect of The Stonewall Riot, it brings attention to the start of a revolution by the LGBT community and the uphill battle for equality. Nearly 50 years have passed since the famous fight (and the gay community has thankfully seen improved rights and support), but the second-class treatment and the sea of fearful queer faces in HIT THE WALL look and feel just as familiar today as ever.
WaterTower's HIT THE WALL ensemble (Kelsey Leigh Ervi, Joshua Gonzales, Walter Lee, Gregory Lush, Camille Monae, Stephen Rosenberger, Rashaun Sibley, Garret Storms, Jacie Hood Wenzel, Brandon Whitlock) succeeds at making the audience feel the wide range of emotions depicted in the text, but the two standout performances are Walter Lee (Carson) and Kelsey Leigh Ervi, who plays masculine-looking, but soft-spoken lesbian Peg. A scene late in the act, where Lee and Ervi are forced to hide in the club's bathroom for their safety, easily provides the most frightening and gripping moment of the night.
Although the content of the show is undeniably important to document (and was, overall, well received on opening night), there's a slightly imbalanced tone to the show that gives off a bit of a school theatre festival vibe. The show is best classified as a play, but includes random moments of spoken word/slam poetry, and some choreographed musical chaos to enhance the storytelling. With such a unique piece to first display her talents, it will be interesting to see what Ms. Schultz unveils in next season's opening act: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, which is detailed by WTT as "imaginative and irreverent".
HIT THE WALL runs through August 20th tickets averaging $30. More information is available at www.WaterTowerTheatre.org.