The summer of 1969, with Stonewall in June and Woodstock in August, represents a shift in the American ethos. These events meet in a new play Hit the Wall at the Barrow Street Theater. Woodstock may evoke the peace and love generation, and to a lesser degree, the look and sound is represented in Hit the Wall by a trio of musicians, a girl guitarist in headband and slovenly dress with her bra showing in the back recalls that bygone era. Hey, at least she wears one! But Stonewall is another thing unto itself: a routine raid on a gay bar in Greenwich Village, a stone's throw from this theater, turns into a full-scale riot, inaugurating change that still resonates. Hit the Wall is a reminder of early violence, a turning point. Today, same-sex couples still arouse volatile passions for some.
Ike Holter's play, under the fine direction of Eric Hoff, focuses on an emblematic set of characters: each meticulously drawn. Effeminate ethnic types meet a man in a suit soliciting street types. And then there's Peg (Rania Salem Manganaro), a woman who dresses like a man exclaiming, "I'm a dyck," and Carson (Nathan Lee Graham), a man who inhabits the essence of woman. Pretending to be what they are not makes these two particularly vulnerable to police brutality. The violence and humiliation done to Peg are more painful to witness than the choreographed rumble. It's a bit like West Side Story: couples' with plans to meet at the Stonewall, foiled by fate.
On opening night, a carefully selected crowd filed into the theater celebrating not only this play, but Barrow Street itself: Tracy Letts, Mare Winningham, David Cromer, Austin Pendleton, Blythe Danner, Kate Arrington and Michael Shannon, and original Stonewallers, Danny Gavin and Martin Boyce. At the afterparty at A.O.C., Larry Kramer, author of The Normal Heart, a play about the AIDS crisis of the early '80s, and the disgraceful bias toward gays, chatted with Joe Mantello, the playwright who starred in the 2011 revival. Hit the Wall takes place before AIDS became a scourge in this community. "Now I'm considered a hero," said Kramer to Joe Mantello. He used to be a troublemaker. Or maybe in these circles, that's the same thing.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.