Theatre review: The Temperamentals gets its strength from John Marans’ powerful history lesson

The Temperamentals is an important piece of LGBT history that every queer should know about, but that history lesson is never fully realized in the current Fighting Chance Productions presentation.

Long before Stonewall, the catalyst traditionally viewed as the genesis of the gay rights movement, a small group of men led by Communist sympathizer Harry Hay (Brian Hinson) formed the Mattachine Society in the 1950s.  Against a backdrop of McCarthyism with its anti-Communist witch hunts and a time when thousands of gay men and women lost their government jobs for being or suspected of being homosexual, Hay and his four co-founders took a brave step challenging the status quo and demanding recognition of homosexuals as a minority.  Making little progress in its early days, it isn’t until blue-collar worker Dale Jennings (Rob Monk) becomes the poster-boy for the movement, that they can claim even a small step towards equality.

Alongside playwright John Marans’ practical queer history lesson is the relationship between Hay and his lover, fashion designer Rudi Gernreich (Devin Pihlainen).  Marans masterfully uses Hay and Gernreich to highlight the cloak of secrecy that existed for homosexuals during that time with quiet whispers, furtive touching and a wonderful metaphoric language designed to hide the men’s sexual identity.  But while Marans provides his characters and play with a strong foundation, the execution is not quite up to par with the material.  As an example, in an early scene Hay playfully places his foot on top of Gernreich’s eliciting a reaction of horror at the possibility of being spotted, but under director Ryan Mooney’s unconventional  staging, where he positions the audience between four raised stages, that all-important initial moment is lost.  Similar moments are also lost through the rest of the show.

Fighting Chance Productions presents John Maran's The Temperamentals. Photo by Devin Karringten.
Fighting Chance Productions presents John Maran’s The Temperamentals. Photo by Devin Karringten.


While Mooney states in his notes that his decision to stage the show in this manner was a deliberate attempt to force us to experience how these men lived their secret lives, he does Marans’ story a disservice.  By preventing us full view of the action, the furtive glances and touches are sometimes missing, the intimacy between Hay and Gernreich is never fully realized and during those times where multiple stages are used, Mooney forces us to make the decision as to where we place our attention.  With Marans’ bullet point style docu-drama it soon became tiresome (and not a little painful) as we attempt to be drawn into these men’s world.

Where Hinson and Pihlainen failed to draw me into their relationship, there was still some fine work to be seen here from James Gill and David Nicks as the generically named Man 1 and Man 2.  The duo brought equal strength to their roles as the Society’s co-founders, the multiple other roles they must portray and a wonderful energy to the ensemble.

The Temperamentals gets its strength from Marans’ powerful history lesson; it is a shame an equal amount of power doesn’t also come from the production.

3 Out of 5 Stars The Temperamentals

By John Marans.  Directed by Ryan Mooney.  A Fighting Chance Productions presentation.  On stage the PAL Theatre through December 3, 2011.  Tickets are available at Tickets Tonight.  Visit http://www.fightingchanceproductions for more information.

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