The producers of Hit the Wall, a new play by Ike Holter, would like you to believe that that there is a revolution happening at the Barrow Street Theatre. Unfortunately, this mosaic of fictional characters that portrays the famous Stonewall Riots of 1969 lands with a thud more than a punch.
The play originated as part of Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Garage Rep, an initiative created to mentor smaller theater companies. But what this play desperately needs is a dramaturg. Holter’s script presents a handful of generic archetypes: The snappy Latino, the Drag Queen and the Newbie, among others. The fact that he gives some of them names feels almost incidental. The dialogue jarringly moves from conversational to beatnik poetry to past tense narrative, never quite sitting in one milieu long enough to gain any momentum.
The audience waits patiently as they each stroll in and set up their roles in what is about to unfold. The blistering summer of 1969 was one of the noted contributing factors to the gay community’s revolt against the ongoing police raids. The cast manages to capture this sense of heat, but director Eric Hoff misses the mark with glaring anachronisms. The catwalking and finger snapping are decades beyond the era as are the free form dance sequences inside The Stonewall Inn, which harken back to voguing of 1980s Harlem.
Hit the Wall does manage to capture some interesting perspectives with a few standout performances. Holter’s script portrays the gay community as a fragmented one, where racial and social stratas hold a firm grip until the bottles and garbage cans start flying.
Rania Salem Manganaro as Peg, a down-on-her-luck lesbian trying to find her way on the streets of New York, delivers an emotionally rich performance, as does Sean Allan Krill who portrays A-Gay. A local West Village resident, his character seems disgusted by the influx of minorities yet desperate for some kind of intimate connection as he leads a secret life of homosexuality.
Fight Director J. David Brimmer is tasked with taking 10 actors and creating a riot that feels like thousands. In spite of the Barrow Street Theatre’s confining space, the movement is swift and aggressive. With the aid of a fog machine and some creative lighting by Keith Parham, it is in these sequences where the play finds its rhythm and drive.
While not a knock-out, Hit the Wall manages to pull a few emotional punches. With gay rights still at the forefront of our national agenda, it also reminds how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.
Hit the Wall
by Ike Holter
directed by Eric Hoff
Barrow Street Theatre through July 7
Here’s what the other critics are saying…
“When Stonewall is depicted as a clash of personal beefs and psychopathologies, its momentousness is reduced to kitchen-sink drama. And while it’s obviously a difficult playwriting challenge to dramatize an all-pervasive system of repression, hey, Arthur Miller did it.” Vulture
“Hit the Wall ends up a sentimental and misleading theatricalization of myth, not history. Worse, it wallows in its characters’ victimization rather than celebrating the fact that for the first time gay people stood up, fought back, and seized power.” Backstage
“Given the remarkable rapidity of the change in the level of support for gay marriage and gay rights in general in America, this impassioned piece is still a potent reminder of just how bad things were as recently as 1969.” Chicago Tribune