The Temperamentals Review

temperamentals-musicalThe Temperamentals

As was recently pointed out in a New York Times article, this theater season is loaded with productions that explore gay themes. They range from such musicals as the off-Broadway Yank! and a Broadway revival of La Cage Aux Folles to off-Broadway plays old (a revival of The Boys in the Band) and new (The Pride), plus a new play that has made the move from off-Broadway to Broadway (Next Fall), just to name a few. Another entry is Jon Marans’s fine and intriguing play The Temperamentals, which had an off-off-Broadway run last summer and has now opened for a commercial run at the New World Stages. The Temperamentals tells a true story about pre-Stonewall gay activists and lovers Harry Hay and Rudi Gernreich, who, in the early 1950s, formed the Mattachine Society, a group that advocated gay rights in a very repressive time for such a cause.

The play is a fascinating work, with superb performances by all five members of the cast. Its dramatic structure -- which gives it a part-docudrama/part-history lesson feeling, particularly in Act One -- may take some getting used to. Overall, while The Temperamentals may not be as dramatically powerful, riveting, or emotionally overwhelming as some might want, it builds and grows as the evening goes on, becoming quite compelling, engrossing, and involving. Since the initial mounting last summer, Marans has made some minor cuts, tightening the play; as a result, the play now has a smoother dramatic flow.

As Harry Hay, Thomas Jay Ryan is excellent, bringing intensity and drive to the role. Hay is an interesting character: married, a Communist, publicly closeted, reluctant to show affection with his lover Gernreich, yet aggressive and dedicated to finding supporters for his manifesto on gay rights. His character evolves in some unexpected ways as the play goes on. As Gernreich, who was a Jewish Viennese fashion designer, Michael Urie (who may be best known for his role in the televisions series Ugly Betty) gives a charming, endearing, nuanced, at times heartbreaking performance. Late in the play, when he quietly asks, “Get married? . . . what about love?” the line resonates with a haunting ache. Urie is an impressive stage actor, and he gives an exquisite performance.

The leads get strong support from Arnie Burton, Matt Schneck, and Sam Breslin Wright, who play founding members of the Mattachine Society, as well as occasional other multiple roles. Director Jonathan Silverstein has given The Temperamentals an imaginative, stylish, and theatrical staging. In its off-off-Broadway staging, the show was quite intimate, with audiences on both sides of a stage area. In the current production, there is a standard proscenium stage, and Silverstein has made some adjustments that work for this space without losing any of the play’s intimacy or strength.

Author Marans and director Silverstein made a very conscious choice to downplay melodrama and structure the play the way they did. Much of it consists of a series of short scenes portraying what happens to the Mattachine society, but never losing sight of the core relationship involving Hay and Gernreich. The net result is a play that entertains while it educates, portraying an era of gay history in America that few people know much about today. The Temperamentals builds effectively as the story proceeds, making for a play that is ultimately moving, and quite satisfying. Add in that it is thought-provoking, still politically relevant, and sticks with you, and you have a worthy and impressive drama. - James Miller

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Mr. Miller is a former Showtime exec who has spent many an evening transfixed by the bright lights of Broadway and Off-Broadway.

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