With all the political activism in recent times surrounding the right for same-sex couples to marry, it is very humbling and somewhat inspiring to watch Mockingbird Theatre’s latest production, The Temperamentals, as this play shines the light on a period of gay history pre-dating the 1969 Stonewall Riots -commonly acknowledged as the moment the gay rights movement was born. Director, Chris Baldlock, in his program notes, expressed his embarrassment and shame not knowing the story of the Mattachine Society, the first American gay rights organization in the early 1950s – I admit, I was as well and was glad of the lesson.
This will easily be the highlight of this current Midsumma season of performances, not just for its educational value for all those who care about history, but for its well-crafted script and the sexy and entertaining way the cast of five men bring it to life. There has been a lot of clever thought put into this production. On the program’s cover was the actual Mattachine Society’s printed manifesto of 1951. An intriguing document staring out at you in its 1950s font which really set the scene for the evening’s subject matter. The floor of the Mechanics Institute stage was beautifully painted with two male figures in 1950s attire reminding us of the force that just two driven people can have in changing political views. The six lone chairs on the open stage were simple and elegant. It’s always interesting to watch how a production uses the empty chair and Baldock brings all six of them to life creatively in most scenes. The 50s mood was set with a smooth trumpet rendition of “People Will Say We’re in Love” from Oklahoma followed by a short black and white documentary film from the era on the ‘Dangers of the Homosexual’. This footage with its ridiculous script and subject matter is comic for a contemporary viewer but its sinister message is still a confronting and revolting reminder of how destructive the media can be.
American playwright, Jon Marans, wrote the Temperamentals in 2009 and this theatre company has billed it as Mad Men meet Harvey Milk, and this it certainly achieves. Triumphs, pathos, passionate love and an abundance of life’s dilemmas are all thrown in the mix with actors who can pull of that smooth and smoldering 1950s style we have come to enjoy thanks to the popular Mad Men series. To the director and cast’s credit, they never venture into the easy waters of stereotypical characters to vie for laughs. The camp humour is a relief from time to time but not the focus of the play. What Marans manages to do is encourage us to realize the clear and present danger for the ‘homosexuals’ of the time, the fear of arrest, the fear of violence. The Mattachine Society was clearly revolutionary and this production illustrated this very well.
Angleo De Cata delivers an excellent portrayal of the brains behind the society, Henry ‘Harry’ Hay. It is wonderfully drawn character that De Cata plays with ease and energy. De Cata delivers the many facets of Harry the man – his vulnerability, his love for Rudi, his rage, his starkly revolutionary vision and his sense of humour amongst other things. Harry and Rudi’s relationship (performed realistically by the actors) explored the idea that the challenges involved in pursuing a political cause is perhaps much bigger than the personal. De Cata’s strong facial expressions displayed a huge range of emotions, from the doleful to the enraged.
The love of Hay’s life was Rudi Gernreich, (Tim Constantine). Constantine was adept at conveying meaning through a piercing look or a quick turn or gesture. Rudi’s burning desire to be a success, his very perceptive mind and his love of people was portrayed excellently by Constantine. In those trying times, Constantine’s Rudi showed that he was the fulcrum of this revolutionary group.
Sebastian Bertoli had the pivotal role of Dale Jennings who he played with strong focus and requisite 1950s masculinity. Angus Cameron’s Chuck was endearing. He was a man who was cautious and calculating. Jai Luke’s comic timing playing Bob Hull was spot on and often brought knowing smiles from the audience. All three actors played an array other roles, serving the play well.
There were many highlights throughout the play; one favourite was the dream scene where Harry was surrounded by people he valued and all of them accepting him and encouraging him to be himself, his El Dorado. The other being the shopping for Dale’s suit scene where Harry and Dale displayed courageous behavior that brought a lump in the throat to many an audience member. The short ‘what happened to these men after the story’ documentary-style scene at the play’s conclusion only added weight to the knowledge that these were real men who were players in an important story.
Baldock and his team are to be commended on such an apt choice for this year’s Midsumma Festival. All the elements of a good night out at the theatre are securely in place. Marans states that we are all on a journey to discover who we really are and what we will really stand up for. His play, The Temperamentals, does show us how exhilarating this journey can be.