BWW Review: HIT THE WALL at Pandora Productions
That the 1969 riots at the center of Ike Holter's play are identified as 'Stonewall' is a neat metaphorical turn of phrase, even if it is happenstance. It is the turning point for Gays emerging from the shadows and staking a claim for a rightful place in society. And the walls came tumbling down.
Well, perhaps they didn't quite tumble, but it was a start. This coming June 28 will mark the 50th anniversary of the night that the NYPD let a 'routine' raid on the Stonewall Gay Bar get out of hand, resulting in a social disturbance over the next 3 nights that involved at least 1000 protesters. Tremendous strides have been made, but the struggle clearly continues on many levels, and Holter's play is a forceful history lesson, lest we forget.
Why that moment? Sex between two people of the same gender was illegal at the time, so such raids were not uncommon, but the level of verbal and physical abuse on the part of the police arguably was more extreme that night. Perhaps it was just the final straw, or maybe its because 1969 was a time of monumental social and political change occurring alongside astonishing advances in technology and science. A thorough timeline of events that year is provided as an insert in the program - one month before Stonewall abortion and contraception were legalized in Canada, and one month after, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Change was in the air.
There is plenty of polemics spoken by the diverse group of characters, but more importantly, Holter shows us the people that make up the mob in the streets; the sons and daughters who felt isolated enough from their families to build a tenuous community in those shadows. Subcultures are often born as a refuge from intolerance and hatred.
The dialogue is peppered liberally with phrases such as "these people" and "your people", emphasizing the tribal identifications of the moment: Blacks, Hispanics, Gay, Lesbian, etc. It is easy to see these characters as stereotypes because they are, but they also delineate the sometimes very fine difference between cliché and meaning. These are individuals living complicated lives beyond labels, and the cast fleshes them out with feeling and commitment.
Yehudah Jai Husband as Carson, a transvestite, and Morgan Younge as Roberta, a lesbian social activist are the boldest and most vividly realized characters, and Kate Holland Ballowe and Rachel Vidal share a remarkable scene as two sisters negotiating the aftermath of the raid.
Lincoln Monroe and Tucker Keel are two sharp-tongued stoop rats who lash out at each other as much as passers-by, and Elliott Talkington and Harrison Coffman are closeted Gay men exercising contrasting attitudes in the midst of social turmoil, the old and the new. Wes Yunker must struggle with arguably the most difficult of these character/symbols as a hippie who strikes up a curious relationship with Carson; curious in that is the furthest from a stereotype. Yunker is a true pro, even if his long wig proved something of a distraction, the one unfortunate choice in an otherwise well-designed show.
The raid itself is played out in a series of tense scenes that build to a brutal humiliation and physical assault that is not for the faint of heart, even if director Michael J. Drury exercises restraint in his staging. Mike Price plays the Cop with unflinching honesty but, crucially, makes him less a monster than an all-too-logical expression of the inherently conservative law enforcement power structure of that time, and perhaps, of today.
It was the beginning, and the legacy of that continuing struggle is, in part, a play like this, and a company like Pandora to produce it. Both have occurred in my lifetime. If we are too often impatient for progress, Hit the Wall reminds us how quickly we covered such a great distance, and also why we must keep fighting.
Hit the Wall
May 10 - 25, 2019