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A CurtainUp Review
The Temperamentals

The Temperamentals Re-opens For an Open Run

The Temperamentals
Thomas Jay Ryan, Michael Urie
(Photo: David Rogers David Rogers)
Sometimes the stars do align and good things happen to make good plays transcend the narrow sphere of a limited run showcase to reach the larger audience it deserves. Case in point: The Temperamentals by Jon Marans which has just opened for an open-ended run at New World Stages.

Simon Saltzman was one of many reviewers who admired Mr. Marans' ability to forge a fascinating fact-based drama about the Mattachine Society, a gay rights organization that was eclipsed by the Stonewall rebellions. Mr. Marans has used the interim between last year's run and the move uptown to fine tune and streamline his script, so that it is now not just, as Simon put it, "informative and mainly engrossing" but engrossing every single minute. (See Original Review).

The plot remains intact. The focus is still on the two leading characters: Political activist Harry Hay and innovative fashion designer Rudi Gernreich. They are passionate about each other and about freeing homosexuals from their despised and persecuted minority status. The minor but beneficial changes involved trimming some elements from the terrifically effective construct of writing a number of interesting peripheral roles for three additional actors (and very occasionally, Rudi) to slip in and out of. While Marans has apparently downsized a few of these roles, the story is still invigorated by plenty of fascinating "Extras." Consequently, there's no loss other than about twenty minutes of the total running time.

Most important in terms of the stars to felicitously align themselves is that all but one of the original cast members were available to reprise their roles. Thomas Jay Ryan is brilliant as the big ego, driven Harry Hay who likens himself to the gigantic ship, the Titanic ("I was born on Easter Sunday. The Titanic went down the following Thursday. And why? Two Titanics can't exist in the world at one time! When one shows up, the other has to go down!"). Michael Urie best known for the TV show Ugly Betty, is equally riveting to watch as Rudi Gernreich the Viennese refugee and fashion designer whose topless bathing suit is part of the Metropolitan Museum's costume collection. He's a scintillating mix of charm, ambition and devotion to Harry and the Mattachine cause. The difference between the men — Harry is initially a macho style homosexual, uncomfortable about being openly warm and romantic while Rudi is warmer and more out in the open — adds sizzle as well as poignancy to their relationship.

The one new addition to the trio of multi-taskers is Arnie Burton — an excellent casting choice since Burton has been changing personalities on a dime during the entire Broadway run of The 39 Steps, also moving the New World Stages complex). Burton brings distinctive nuance to the quite different characters in The Temperamentals. He's especially memorable as movie director Vincente Minnelli. The priceless Minnelli-Gernreich-Hay party scene also sparks Rudi and Harry's hilarious take on Minelli's wife Judy Garland.

While Ryan's Hay is the cynosure, the versatile ensemble provides the richness that makes The Temperamentals a play rather than a staged history lesson. Michael Urie's Rudi is hardly a second banana. His somewhat odd yet authentic and consistent Austrian accent enhances his charm. When he explains the reason for his bigger than ever before used hound's tooth checks to Harry we see how his belief in "making bold fashion statements" dovetails with Harry's more political vision and clarifies the compatibility of what at first seems an incompatible relationship.

The Stage 5 theater is one of the complex's smaller venues so that, except for a balcony, this is still an intimate production. Scenic designer Clint Ramos has remained true to the playwright's stage direction which asks for the designers to evoke the many different locales with atmosphere rather than anything realistic. Josh Bradford's lighting supplies a more than generous dose of the atmosphere sought by Mr. Marans.

Audiences who missed The Temperamentals the first time around will be as glad as I was to have a chance to play catchup. This informative and entertaining play is not just one more addition to a season awash in old and new gay themed stories but as Simon Saltzman so aptly summed it up last year: It is as earnestly simple in its presentation as it is irrevocably splendid in its purpose.

Current Production Notes
The Temperamentals by Jon Marans
Directed by Jonathan Silverstein

Cast: Thomas Jay Ryan (Harry Hay), Michael Urie (Rudi Gernreich), Arnie Burton (Chuck Rowland and others), Matthew Schneck (Bob Hull and others), Sam Breslin Wright (Dale Jennings and others)
  Set & Costume Design: Clint Ramos
  Lighting Design: Josh Bradford
  Sound Design: Daniel Kluger
  Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes including one intermission
  New World Stages 340 West 50th Street(212) 239-6200
From 2/18/10; opening 2/28/10; closing 5/30/10.
Monday 8:00 pm; Thursday 8:00pm; Friday 8:00 pm; Saturday at 2:00pm & 8:00 pm and on Sunday at 3:00 pm & 7:00 pm.
Ticket prices are: $65;student tickets for $25 in the mezzanine.
  Re-reviewed by Elyse Sommer February 25th press performance
I was born on Easter Sunday. The Titanic went down the following Thursday. And why? Two Titanics can't exist in the world at one time! When one shows up, the other has to go down! — Harry Hay
The history of the gay movement and the concerted activism of those who took a formal/public stand in support of gay rights in the United States are generally viewed from a perspective that is either pre or post Stonewall. With more than just a titular nod to "temperamental," as a passé euphemism to describe a person who is gay, playwright Jon Marans has forged an informative and mainly engrossing play that falls into the genre of quasi-docu-drama.

Set during the onset of the 1950s, The Temperamentals focuses on the activism of Harry Hay (Thomas Jay Ryan) who was at the forefront of the gay rights movement. As depicted in the play, Hay's commitment to the cause was notably energized by his love affair with Jewish Viennese refugee, up-and-coming Hollywood fashion designer Rudi Gernreich (Michael Urie). Gernreich, whose family members had died in Auschwitz, gets credit for emboldening Hay to found The Mattachine Society, named by Hay after (according to the Wikipedia Encyclopedia) "the Medieval French secret societies of masked men who, through their anonymity, were empowered to criticize ruling monarchs with impunity."

A Communist, Hay's direct sometimes reckless approach to the issues confronting the new organization would conceivably initiate resistance from the growing membership despite the fact that many of original core of members were not only closeted gays but also Communists. As dramatized, Hays' personality is formidably balanced by Gernreich's equally forthright but more "I am charming" declaration. As this is primarily a love story set during the tumultuous birthing of the Society, the play gives only passing references to its manifesto and its links to Communism in the early 1950s. But there was a price to pay for their bold stand representing a disenfranchised and oppressed sexual minority.

Five excellent actors using four sturdy wooden chairs for props are all that is needed to create a dynamic presence on the small platform stage of the TBG 2 Theatre. In that the theatre only accommodates 99 people seated on two sides, it is, to say the least, an intimate experience. As directed by Jonathan Silverstein with considerable flair, but also consideration for the actors' proximity, The Temperamentals moves credibly between its dramatic confrontations and Hay's occasional narrative asides.

Marans, who is best known for Old Wicked Songs, makes it clear with this play that his intention is not to simply re-engage us with historic events but also to reveal through them a touching and significant love story: the intimate/romantic relationship between Hay and Gernreich. First and foremost, it is the chemistry between them that we feel, the obstacles they face that grip us (Hay was married to a woman for 11 years and had two children), and it's the conflicts they have that lead to their eventual split-up that keeps us deeply involved.

The early scenes of discreet flirting between the two are particularly well done. Ryan is terrific as Hay, a man who finds it almost impossible to contain his barnstorming approach to each new challenge. He finds the perfect compliment in the good-looking and breezily witty Gernreich. As played with a disarming Continental panache by Urie, Gernreich inexorably becomes a character deserving of a drama of his own. His meetings with film director Vincent Minnelli and other Hollywood-ians are cheeky peeks into the politics of a closeted Tinsel Town.

Except for Ryan, who remains constant as Hay, the other actors are assigned multiple roles. Urie has to drop his excellent Viennese accent on occasion, Tom Beckett, as Chuck Rowland, Matthew Schneck, as Bob Hull, and Sam Breslin Wright, as Dale Jennings (the names of actual men who founded the Mattachine Society) give their all to playing these characters as well as others. A major section of the play concerns the Society as it comes to the aid of Dale Jennings (Wright), a former cop cum carnival roustabout, who is entrapped by the LAPD for "indecent behavior."

As it has opened during the 40th anniversary year of the Stonewall riots (1969), The Temperamentals is both topical and timely. Looking back, we can see the inroads and the detours that progressive and persuasive gay activism has taken towards obtaining legislation that legalizes marriage between same sex couples, an act that was not even considered by the Mattachine Society during the early 1950s. It is as earnestly simple in its presentation as it is irrevocably splendid in its purpose.

The Temperamentals
  By Jon Marans
  Directed by Jonathan Silverstein

Cast: Thomas Jay Ryan (Harry Hay), Michael Urie (Rudi Gernreich), Tom Beckett (Chuck Rowland and others), Matthew Schneck (Bob Hull and others), Sam Breslin Wright (Dale Jennings and others)
  Set & Costume Design: Clint Ramos
  Lighting Design: Josh Bradford
  Sound Design: Daniel Kluger
  Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one intermission
  TBG 2 Theatre, 312 West 36th Street (212) 868 — 4444
  Tickets: $50
  Performances: Wednesday — Monday at 8 PM and matinees Sunday at 3 PM
  Opened originally Barrow Group Studio Theatre 04/30; closed 05/18/09
  Re-opened at TBG Theatre 06/10/09
  Ends 08/23/09
  Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 06/29/09
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