Thomas Jay Ryan and Michael Urie in The Temperamentals.
BOTTOM LINE: An historical drama of the first order. This show is like having a warm brandy with a fabulous, nostalgic old drag queen. And who doesn't like doing that?
What the press notes say: The Temperamentals tells the story of a group of courageous men who joined together to build the Mattachine Society, the first gay rights organization in the US. The play features the intimate and complex relationship between Harry Hay and young fashion designer Rudy Gernreich, set against the backdrop of 1950s Hollywood and the McCarthy era.
On a set consisting of little more than a black brick wall, a few lamps, and some chairs, The Temperamentals tells the political tale of the Mattachine Society, but of more, if not equal importance, are the personal stories of the men who created it. Most touching is the story of Harry and Rudy, the lovers eventually torn apart by political expediency and hetero-conformity. The societal and personal taboos of their clandestine relationship are so profound and all-encompassing that when they finally manage to overcome their fear and hold hands in the garden of a Hollywood party, it is as fearless and sexual as anything I've ever seen on stage.
Our heroes are eventually ousted from the Mattachine society, and the script dutifully details the real-life endings of these men at the very end of the show. This is my only quibble, that the elegant fairy tale (no pun intended) grinds to a halt as the facts and figures of history take over the last 2 minutes. I understand; the play ends this way in the interests of closure, information and finality, but a small part of me wished I could have held on to the magic of simple storytelling until the final blackout.
Overall, the writing is sublime, the design exquisite, the direction and acting glow with tenderness and care. It's warm, inviting, informative without cumbersome exposition, and emphatically political without preaching or excessive didactics. Actors Thomas Jay Ryan (Harry Hay), Michael Urie (Rudy Gernreich), Arnie Burton (Chuck Rowland/others), Matthew Schneck (Bob Hull/ens.), Sam Breslin Wright (Dale Jennings/ens.), and director Jonathan Silverstien made me believe I was there. There is no higher praise I can give to an historical drama. Go see it, The Temperamentals is not to be missed.
(The Temperamentals plays at New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street, through May 23, 2010. Performances are Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm and 7pm. Tickets are $65.00-$90.00 and are available at telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200. Use discount code TEOFFER210 for $33-$50 tickets.)