by: Sandi Durell
“If you hit the wall when you are trying to achieve something, you reach a situation where you cannot make any more progress;” so says the dictionary.
It took many years to achieve gay rights, progress slow and grueling and continuing. It all began as a revolution on June 27, 1969, at the Stonewall, an underground gay bar frequented by the disenfranchised – gays, lesbians, drag queens – when it was raided by cops. The structure exists commemorated with a plaque, just a few yards down from the Barrow Street Theatre where Ike Holter’s tumultuous new play “Hit The Wall” is currently attempting to recreate the drama and violence.
Although the play has imperfections – its characters appear as replicas, sometimes over-the-top limited conceptions; the intention is markedly gut-wrenching in the reality of the violence that took place and Mr. Holter certainly makes his political points.
The cast of characters are all inclusive as is the dress of the era – hippie long hairs, beads, leather and headbands – bringing together Peg, a lesbian, with her counterpart lily white prim and proper sister Madeline who is trying to save her; the Latino and African American gay couple, Mika and Tano who are really good at jive talk and shouting raging obscenities in and out of rhyme ; the Black drag queen Carson who is mourning the death of the recently deceased Judy Garland; the Newbie kid who comes to the scene a virgin not sure of his sexual identity; the business man who invites anyone he can get his paws on to his nearby apartment (his mantra: “Take my hand. Shut your mouth. Follow my lead”); the homophobic policeman who violently and sadistically assaults Peg; and there’s the Stonewall band that floats here and there.
By the time you get to the second half of the 90 minute, no intermission production, and the dance floor on that historical night, the scenes turn to the rioting and violence, accomplished successfully with loud music, strobe lights and haze, and you are riveted in place, barely able to breath as the horrors unfold. Yes, you’re exhausted by the sheer intensity and power in this small space designed as theater-in-the-round.
The actors are all top notch young prototypes of the era; none of them having lived through it, nor has the playwright who is in his 20s. Ike Holter has a lot to say and as he grows will be someone to reckon with. Highlight performances noted include Nathan Lee Graham as Carson, Gregory Haney as Mike, Arturo Soria as Tano and Rania Salem Manganaro as Peg. The play is directed by Eric Hoff.
“Hit The Wall” at the Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow Street, NYC www.barrowstreettheatre.com
*Photo: Matthew Murphy