Timely TEMPERAMENTALS Lives Loud and Proud

Timely TEMPERAMENTALS Lives Loud and Proud

(left to right) Alex Weisman, Lane Anthony Flores, Kyle Hatley, Paul Fagen and Rob Lindley in About Face Theatre’s Chicago premiere of THE TEMPERAMENTALS by Jon Marans, directed by Andrew Volkoff. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Review: THE TEMPERAMENTALS at About Face Theatre

By Elizabeth Ellis

In early 1950’s America, conformity was practically a requirement for citizenship. Heaven forbid you made waves, or spoke or acted in a way that could label you as a “red,” a commie,” or “subversive.” To be a homosexual was tantamount to being a criminal. In those days, when the simplest public, physical contact could result in arrest, gay men sought to hide their true colors, literally, under drab suits. But gray flannel could not hide nor contain the desire to live honestly and openly, and enjoy the same rights as any other American.

THE TEMPERAMENTALS takes its name from an old euphemism for gay men (as though straight men are less temperamental?). Jon Marans’ thoughtful, entertaining, and accessible script offers an education of the nascent gay rights movement in Los Angeles. Late one night, Harry Hay, a married communist and teacher, and his Viennese lover, Rudi Gernreich, an up-and-coming costume designer, meet in secret. Harry offers Rudi his manifesto on the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay rights organizations. As they recruit more members to join them, each man faces how his identity will change, and how they will each have to live with that new truth.

Joe Schermoly’s clean and simple set — reminiscent of Japanese shoji screens — provides a spartan contrast to the actors’ emotional upheaval. Andrew Volkoff beautifully guides his cast with a light touch, but doesn’t shy away from the fear and conflict that accompany all political struggles.

The casting is superb: Kyle Hatley expertly combines bluster with tentative vulnerability. Harry’s American directness creates a contrast to the exquisite, polished European charm of Lane Anthony Flores’ Rudi. The supporting cast shows equal strength and range. Paul Fagen’s Dale Jennings — a quiet former cop who becomes a reluctant hero when he stands trial for solicitation — shows an appealing everyman quality, and you can’t help but root for him. Rob Lindley’s Vincente Minnelli shows steel under his silk suits as he expresses continued support for the coded speech gay men used for years as covert communication. Alex Weisman’s wonderful comic timing provides a release to the building tensions around him, even as he shows his Bob Hull to be a fairly nasty fellow.

The timing and relevance of this production cannot be ignored. While the incoming administration offers a curious and limited definition as to what constitutes “all Americans,” About Face, in a blue neighborhood in one of the bluest cities in one of the bluest states, knows the truth. These stories need to be told, and the history of the gay civil rights movement needs to be passed down to the next generations. This is how to live honestly, live out loud, and live proud.

About author

Elizabeth Ellis

Elizabeth is an actor, playwright, musician, and a graduate of De Paul University. She studied theatre and improvisation at the Second City Training Center, the Actors’ Center, and at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London. Elizabeth has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Tympanic Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Second City's Children's Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Bailiwick Arts Center, and London's Canal Cafe Theatre. Six of her plays have been chosen as part of the Abbie Hoffman and the Around the Coyote festivals.