The American Gay Rights Movement started not with a bang but with several bangs.
The Compton Cafeteria and the Black Cat Tavern riots in California foreshadowed a movement about to come to fruition. But neither of those conflicts grabbed the attention of the uprising that would become the linchpin of gay rights: The Stonewall Rebellion.
“Hit the Wall” wades through the facts and fictions surrounding the riots that took place on or after June 28, 1969, and constructs a compelling narrative from the chaos. Cliff (Steve Lenz,) a draft dodger, encounters Carson (Manny Buckley), a regal transvestite mourning the recent death of Judy Garland. Mika (Desmond Gray) and Tano (Arturo Soria) long for storybook relationships reserved for white men; Peg (Rania Salem Manganaro) reaches out to activist Roberta (Shannon Matesky). All rendezvous at The Stonewall for an evening that would change the course of history.
Writer Ike Holter successfully democratizes the conflict, which served not only as a tipping point for gays but for other minority communities. He explores the self-loathing and anger common on every corner during that era. Holter’s poetic rants pack power, but are occasionally rushed by the ensemble. Director Eric Hoff’s staging is lively but the piece loses a bit of steam during the riot itself; the script and the blocking fails to support the energy of the chaos.
The ensemble eloquently expresses the dilemma faced by gay people on a daily basis: they can have everything they want if they stop being who they are. The actors successfully capture the forced nobility of those with nothing left to lose.
“Hit the Wall” runs through April 8 as part of the Steppenwolf Garage Rep Series at the Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N. Halsted. Purchase tickets by calling the box office at 312 932-2422 or visiting steppenwolf.org/garage.
Photo by Ryan Bourque