Mockingbird Theatre presents The Temperamentals – Jon Marans' play chronicling the formation of the Mattachine Society, one of the earliest homosexual organizations in the USA.
"Discover who you really are and what you will really stand up for" Jon Marans playwright
The Mattachine Society was founded in 1950 to stand up for and protect the civil and political rights of homosexual men at a time when homosexuality was certainly a taboo subject. Homosexual men had to use a secret code name to identify themselves – this code name was temperamental. The society was founded by activist Harry Hay and Austrian born fashion designer and gay activist Rudi Gernreich who was also an open nudist and advocate of sexual liberation – he had a long and avant-garde career as a fashion designer, and, amongst many other interesting designs, is renown for his monokini which first appeared on a model in a woman's magazine around 1964.
Other notable members were Dale Jennings, Bob Hull and Chuck Rowland. Marans' play tells the story of these mavericks and their brave battle for change.
Multiple award winning actor, and Mockingbird Theatre ensemble member, Angelo De Cata plays Harry Hay the English-born American labor advocate, teacher and early leader in the American LGBT rights movement. De Cata describes Hay as being ahead of his time in terms of what he was trying to achieve with regard to gay rights. "Society of the 1950’s was just not ready for him! Harry is opinionated, brash and driven, frustrated by the fact he is constrained by societal expectations and is, initially, afraid to be his true self," De Cata says. As an actor, De Cata is excited to explore the journey that Hay takes though the course of the play describing his development as subtle and beautiful.
De Cata feels that the challenge of The Temperamentals is to not only convey the truth of each of the characters but to a greater extent, the truth of the time in which these brave men were living. "The 1950’s was a time where homosexuality was seen as a perversion," says De Cata. "Gay men were constantly in fear of being arrested and having their reputations ruined, living under the veil of paranoia. Homosexuality was even diagnosable as a mental illness – it was actually listed as a ‘sociopathic personality disturbance’ in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders."
"Thankfully society has, for the most part, progressed from this way of thinking but the play needs to give contemporary audiences a sense of the urgency and danger that these men were constantly living under at the time. It needs to show the struggle these men faced in trying to be their authentic selves whilst still being a members of a society that was not only intolerant but repressive. This presents us, the actors, with a wonderful challenge. The Temperamentals also presents us with a privilege, that of portraying the courageous men of the Mattachine Society, who were among the first pioneers in the gay rights movement."
Director Chris Baldock feels that The Temperamentals is a fascinating study about what is was like to live, struggle and yearn for political change as a gay man over half a century ago. Today that passionate yearning for political change is based on the battle, and oft semantics, of same-sex marriage. It was, however, those early pioneers who made a difference and opened the doors for modern homosexuals to have a voice. "The 1969 New York Stonewell Riots lead directly to the Gay Liberation Movement but before that the important and dedicated work the 'temperamentals' achieved in the form of the Mattachine Society reminds us that there have always been brave men who are determined to right wrongs. The Temperamentals is about these men," says Baldock.
Baldock had the privilege of directing the Melbourne premiere of Jon Maran's Pulitzer Prize-nominated Old Wicked Songs a few years ago and became something of a 'rabid fanboy' due to the phenomenal writing of the piece. As a result, he began an email relationship with Marans just as The Temperamentals was to premiere Off-Broadway. Marans sent the manuscript and Baldock was hooked on this story he describes as an amazing tale of bravery. "But what struck me more than anything was the shame and embarrassment I felt in being a gay man and not knowing the story of these men – these heroes – these inspirations," confides Baldock. "As with most of us, I believed the fight for equality in the public's eye started at Stonewall. This play shows that the fight began much earlier and it is only now that Harry Hay's story is getting the attention it deserves."
Mockingbird Theatre is pleased to be presenting this play to Melbourne audiences for the first time. Baldock's hope is that audiences take something vital away from it. "We dedicate this play to a generation that also endured and fought for us all to be living in a society now that is much more accepting. We still have a way to go but you forged a path we are eternally grateful for," says Baldock.
The Temperamentals runs at the Brunswick Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre, till February 1 and is a part of midsumma.
Cast: Angelo De Cata, Tim Constantine, Angus Cameron, Jai Luke, Sebastian Bertoli.