A vivid, semi-fictional look at the events on the day before the Stonewall riots.
By Joel Benjamin
Doric Wilson, the author of Street Theater, was a gay activist and one of the founders of the off-off-Broadway movement, finding his voice at the legendary Caffe Cino in the early Sixties. In Street Theater (1982) Wilson imagined a panoply of Greenwich Village types congregating just outside the soon to be iconic Stonewall Inn, on June 28th, 1969. Then a mob-controlled, police-bedeviled drinking and pickup spot, the Stonewall—and other spots habituated by gays, lesbians and drag queens—were subject to raids with seemingly arbitrary and sadistic frequency.
Wilson knew these people intimately. He reduced that vast crowd that rioted that evening to a handful of characters, writing amusingly about their interactions on the day of the Stonewall uprising when the customers at the Stonewall fought back with any makeshift weapon at hand for nearly three days, turning the name Stonewall into a synonym for gay rights. (Wilson was actually there, it should be noted.)
TOSOS (The Other Side of Silence), the gay theater company that Wilson and his colleagues Billy Blackwell and Peter dell Valle founded in 1974, has been resurrected and presented the play at the Eagle Bar (yet another gay icon, but for very different reasons). Mark Finley staged the play on a runway between two audience sections. It is a very intimate production with the actors never more than a few feet away.
The show began with Murfino (Christopher Borg, exaggerated, but funny), a mob thug who runs the Stonewall meandering on to tell us what to expect. (He actually thinks of himself as the Stage Manager in Our Town—a literate Mafioso!—who knew?) He is in cahoots with Seymour (Joe MacDougall, tough exterior, passionate interior), a vice cop who fulfills his “quota” by stretching the law, trying to lure unsuspecting gay men into getting arrested in flagrante. Seymour meets and nearly picks up Donovan (Russell Jordan, convincing), another undercover cop. They and other cops are ordered by the powers that be to raid the Stonewall that night. The tension of knowing what is about to happen was often relieved by the parade of colorful characters spouting campy, silly, naïve and witty lines.
C.B. (Rebecca Nyahay, outstanding) is a “politically incorrect lesbian” who is the voice of reason, the Greek chorus who sees everything clearly. Jack (Josh Kenney, hunky but troubled), a handsome guy who is unsure of himself and what exactly he wants, finally rises to the occasion. Two drag queens, Ceil (Chris Anderson, hilarious and multi-colored) and Boom Boom (Michael Lynch, a hoot) added their bitchiness to the proceedings, keenly observing the scene and its characters.
The rest of the actors who gave delicious flavors to Street Theater: A sweet flower child, Heather (Eilis Cahill, fragile with a steely will); two preppies, Michael and Donald (Ben Strothmann & Patrick Porter, both somehow making vapidity interesting); Sidney (Jeremy Lawrence, smarmy, but charming); newbie Timothy (Tim Abrams, endearingly innocent) who doesn’t remain innocent for long; and a pair of intellectual lefties, Jordan & Gordon (Johnathan Cedano & Desmond Dutcher, who are totally convincing ), spout political dialectic with superficial, but hilarious, abandon.
Mark Finley’s direction keeps the dialogue bouncing along. The pace is so quick that even the most dated language seems fresh. His cast is, at the least, game, and totally dedicated.
Chris Weikel’s costumes and Zsamira Sol Ronquillo’s makeup designs do wonders re-creating the Sixties ambiance.
Street Theater (ran thru Oct. 24th)
The Eagle Bar 554 West 28th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues New York, NY
More information: www.tososnyc.org
Running time: one hour, 50 minutes including one intermission