Review by Joshua Rose
In June of 1969, with the temperature soaring and tempers boiling the streets of the West Village exploded into a riot that would become a revolution. Being the victims of yet another raid, on their unlicensed-mob-run gay bar, the community of homosexuals, drag queens, queers, transgendered and gender non-conforming patrons came together, stood up, and fought side by side beating back the police on that night and many more in the weeks to come. They were through with quietly and patiently waiting their turn to be free. Hard Rain is not that story.
Hard Rain sets itself not inside the Stonewall Inn, but in a fictional similar dive down the street; mob-run and itself a victim of repeated closures and raids. The people we find in the Bakery Tavern, however, are not a community, they never really come together. And when, in the final moments of the play, word of the Stonewall riot is received, only one character has enough character to join in the fray.
Ruby, (Carson Alexander in the only consistent and solid performance of the show), the Vietnam vet-cum-drag queen, might not be charging in to the fight due to any sense of community though. He may just be doing it to satisfy his explosive and violent temper. Repeatedly demonstrated and mentioned through-out the 2 hour run of the show, this bit of poor character building serves in the end, not to make Ruby a complex multilayered character, but to undercut her motivation for joining the fight at the end.
The writers, Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper, are better known in their native England for their pantomimes, (broad and gaudy comedic musical takes on fairytales), than they are for heady important dramatic work. Much of their dialogue is stilted, and lacks the musicality of spoken language. Their characters are all two dimensional, though some have multiple layers of two dimensionality (see Ruby as drag queen and violently damaged Vietnam vet), and all seem unwilling to choose one side or the other of any question presented to them, much less the big ones. Multiple times Angie, played by Xandra Leigh Parker, is asked how she would feel if her son grew up to be gay, like the men she serves watered down drinks to every night. She never answers the question.
Rounding out the stock characters are Jimmy, (Teo Rapp-Olsson) the arrogantly flamboyant street kid with no street smarts. Frank, (Michael Garrahy) the guido mobster closet-case who takes a shine to the small slip of a boy. Josh, (Andrew Schoomaker) Ruby’s straight acting Wall Street boyfriend. Danny, (Nick Ryan) the dirty cop on the take who falls for Angie.
I want to be clear that the actors all played their characters well, with as much depth and flavor as the script gave them. They never once slipped out of character. What the performances lacked was the feeling that the characters actually thought up what was coming out of their mouths. I put some of that blame on the stilted writing. I put some of it on the director, Michael Luggio and his cluttered staging, which had actors constantly running into each other and literally jostling for position. And I put a small amount of blame on the fact that the audience didn’t out numbered the cast (unless you count the director sitting in the back row.). Energy, pacing and tempo all were lacking at the Wednesday night performance I saw.
Poor design work did little to aid the production. Three quarters of the show was relegated to one quarter of the stage by Mark Marcante’s set, while a single scene that lasted less than 5 minutes, got a full quarter of the stage all to itself. Lighting, also by Mr Marcante, was uneven and inartistically dim. Costuming was inconsistent with distractingly odd choices including a cop wearing his gun in a shoulder harness while slipping birkenstocks on his feet. (Really? He’s going to chase down a perp in birkenstocks?).
Finally, and most importantly, what the show lacked is the sense of community that I mentioned in my first paragraph, and that is even mentioned in the script. These six characters don’t feel like they are connected to each other in any way other than by coincidence of time and space, much less to a greater community, seeking freedom and equality. Perhaps that’s why the riot doesn’t start at this bar, that nobody remembers, but at the one down the street, whose name has become synonymous with the cause.
Hard Rain is playing at Theater for a New City, 155 1st Avenue. Through January 25th. Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm. It runs just over two hours with one intermission.