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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Theater

Play focuses on 1950s gay life


Mitchell Greco, Steven Bullit and Rob Flebbe portray real-life gay rights pioneers Rudi Gernreich, Harry Hay and Bob Hall, respectively, in “The Temperamentals,” produced by Celebration Theatre and under the direction of Jimmy Phillips.  |  Courtesy of Celebration Theatre

Mitchell Greco, Steven Bullit and Rob Flebbe portray real-life gay rights pioneers Rudi Gernreich, Harry Hay and Bob Hall, respectively, in “The Temperamentals,” produced by Celebration Theatre and under the direction of Jimmy Phillips. | Courtesy of Celebration Theatre

Before the Stonewall Riots of 1969 made the modern day gay rights movement a part of the national mentality, a group of five friends pushed the radical notion of an organized gay community in 1950s Los Angeles.

This is the basis of “The Temperamentals,” a play by Jon Marans, which made its Houston premier on Wednesday through the presentation of the fledgling arts organization Celebration Theatre.

The play, which was originally produced Off Broadway in New York City in 2009, follows the true story of Harry Hay and Rudi Gerneich as they form the Mattachine Society, the first attempt at creating an organized, political gay populace.

The cast only consists of five actors — led by Steven Bullit as Harry and Mitchell Greco as Rudi — but a slew of characters occupy the stage.

John Dunn, Rob Flebbe and Jeffery Dorman portray fellow society founders, Chuck Rowland, Bob Hall and Dale Jennings, respectively, but they also flesh out a host of characters, including Golden Era director Vincent Minelli.

The play takes its name from a 1950s code word used by gay men and women in place of “homosexual.”  This cast, directed by Jimmy Phillips, does a superb job of portraying what life was like for “temperamentals” 60 years ago.

The constant hushing for fear of being overheard, the constant fear of informants and police are very well conveyed. At one point after intermission, the audience is even made to hold hands with the actors and make a pledge to support each other, as if they were at one of the first-ever society meetings.

But one of the best moments that conveyed the secretness of the era was when Bullit and Greco were off to the side discussing the already stereotypical love of Judy Garland. While they were talking, their hands would slightly brush up against each other — never fully holding hands or coming into complete contact, but completely full of yearning.

It’s quite surreal to hear of the “crazy dream” of a gay community that is referred to in the play — even more so when you hear Flebbe ask in an offhand manner, “So, the more they see us, the more they like us?”

Sixty years later, we know that the dream is a reality and the visibility theory continues to prove more true every day.

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