The Temperamentals

The Temperamentals
By Jon Marans. New Theatre (NSW). February 7 – March 3, 2012.

Staged as part of Mardi Gras, The Temperamentals reaches back to a forgotten period of American gay activism long before that famous riot spilled from the Stonewall bar.

Jon Marans’ important play traces the founding in the early 1950s in Los Angeles of the Mattachine Society, named after the masked medieval jesters who could speak truth with impunity. We meet Harry Hay, a bellicose married gay man, a communist, and his Viennese Jewish boyfriend, destined to be the famous designer, Rudi Gernreich. The Mattachines spread to other cities, at first organised into cells like the American communists and led by fellow travellers.

This is a fascinating maelstrom of its time, when gays first dubbed themselves a ”sexual minority”, when the House of Un-American Activities begins its harassment, the Holocaust nightmare was still fresh, and “negro” rights just emerging. Most so-called “temperamentals” were just too terrified to leave the closet.

Kevin Jackson’s five actors capture well the paranoia, campery and first confident self-knowledge of these courageous activists, notably in their courtroom win against police entrapment. Dressed in basic black, they move quickly through multiple scenes arranging chrome stools against an artful backdrop of huge differently textured triangles (designer Tom Bannerman).

Despite all the wit and vignettes of human frailty, Marans' often rambling script does itself fall between the stools. It is part doco-drama and part personal narratives which are left under explored and unresolved. Douglas Hansell doesn’t help by finding only the noisy anger in Harry; we are left uninvolved in his remarkable real-life voyage from grimly besuited teacher to shawl-drapped activist (decrying male conformity, the elderly Hay decades later took to dresses and founded the Radical Fairies). Daniel Scott is far more convincing as his gently ironic lover, Rudi.

There is also fine work from Ben McIvor, from Brett Rogers (as gay but much married film director Vincente Minnelli) and from Mark Dessaix (as the determinedly boyish and finally suicidal Bob Hull).

The Temperamentals is a complex tapestry of historic and personal narratives, unevenly stitched, a compelling story but – until the end – strangely unmoving.

Martin Portus

Photographer: Bob Seary.

To keep up with the latest news and reviews at Stage Whispers, click here to like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

To keep up with the latest news and reviews at Stage Whispers, click here to like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.