The View UpStairs at Hayes Theatre Co is about to enter its final week of performances.
The production (the first of The View UpStairs to be performed outside of the United States) has received a fantastic response from audiences and critics alike (find Theatre People’s review here) and brings to light the story of a deadly fire in a New Orleans gay bar in 1973, which saw 32 people lose their lives. Until the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Florida, the UpStairs Lounge fire was the largest LGBTQI mass murder in the country’s history.
Max Vernon’s tribute to the the UpStairs Lounge and its patrons has been staged in Sydney under the direction of Shaun Rennie, with a talented cast that includes Stephen Madsen (following on from his role as swimmer Alexander Shkuratov in the world premiere of Muriel’s Wedding), Anthony Harkin and Ryan Gonzalez (both part of the Australian premiere season of Kinky Boots), and Henry Brett (whose credits include STAGEART’s Spring Awakening and Vic Theatre Company’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee).
Speaking to Theatre People in the lead up to Sydney’s opening night, Gonzalez pinpointed what he loves about The View UpStairs.
“The thing that really draws me to it and makes me excited about performing it is the fact that they had such a sense of community back in the 1970s,” he says. “They didn’t just love each other and care for each other; they actually relied on each other.
“[Most of] these characters don’t work at the bar, [but] they … keep the bar alive and create a safe space for the LGBTQI community to come and actually feel like they’re a part of something and that they’re not going to get reported or arrested.”
Gonzalez plays Freddy, who works in construction by day and becomes drag queen ‘Aurora Whorealis’ at night.
“Freddy is the youngest character in the bar – he’s about 22, 23 years old,” Gonzalez says. “He’s [arrived] from Puerto Rico … This [bar] is the only place that will accept him.”
By Freddy’s side for each of his drag performances is his loving and supportive stage mother, Inez (played by Martelle Hammer).
“Freddy is super ignorant in the way that he’s not scared to be his flamboyant self,” Gonzalez explains. “Because he’s a drag queen, he has the tendency to be larger than life and to speak his mind and all of the things we’re seeing on Ru Paul’s Drag Race at the moment!”
Of course, in New Orleans in 1973, such behaviour would have threatened his very survival.
“He actually gets himself and the other characters in the bar in trouble with the cops, kind of pushing him into the idea that we shouldn’t have to be secretive and we shouldn’t have to hide and we shouldn’t have to be quiet, which is funny because Wes, the leading man of the show, has come into the bar from the future and is saying the same thing.”
Gonzalez talks about taking on the role.
“I think the character of Freddy is a gift to me because it’s not too different from myself,” he says.
That said, it’s a character he still finds challenging.
“The deeper side, when he does get hurt and when he has to swallow his pride and he has to say sorry a lot … that’s the harder side,” Gonzalez says. “That’s been a little bit more challenging for me – to get underneath him as a character.”
Gonzalez talks about what he hopes audiences will take away from their experience seeing The View UpStairs.
“If we get one young person to think about what they’re doing before they do it, in regards to a relationship or cutting someone out of their life or judging other people in the LGBTQ community; if we get them to stop and think about what they’re doing before they do something or before they say something; if we get them to understand that our fight is hard, but it’s not as hard as what people in the 1970s had to go through; and if we get them to respect the idea that we have to understand and respect what has come before us, I think then we’ve done our job.”
THE VIEW UPSTAIRS – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Hayes Theatre Co, 19 Greenknowe Avenue, Potts Point
Season: Playing now until 11 March 2018
Times: Tue-Sat 7.30pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 3pm
Price: $65 Adult, $60 Concession
Bookings: hayestheatre.com.au | (02) 8065 7337