(*homocinematically inclined)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Reverend's Preview: Stonewall on Stage


The Stonewall riots of 1969 aren’t only being recreated on the big screen this month. Los Angeles LGBT Center is presenting the West Coast premiere of Hit the Wall, Ike Holter’s acclaimed play about the event widely considered to mark the birth of the LGBT rights movement. It runs September 15th-October 25th at the Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre.

Called an “impassioned evocation” and “deeply affecting” by The New York Times, the play — not unlike the new movie — utilizes a combination of real and fictional characters or, as its press release notes, “a theatrical blend of history and mythology.” The LA production’s cast of 10 embodies such roles as Carson, an imperious black drag queen; Peg, a butch lesbian ostracized by her family; and a “Snap Queen Team” of shade-throwing gay boys. They are directed by Ken Sawyer and supported by a live band performing original music by The Go-Go’s guitarist Charlotte Caffey and Anna Waronker, formerly of That Dog.

Hit the Wall focuses on the first night of the riots, when a crowd of LGBT regulars of New York City’s Stonewall Inn famously fought back against police officers attempting to arrest them yet again on morality charges. The police were forced to barricade themselves inside the bar as more than 100 patrons and supporters congregated outside. The riots continued for several more nights and the crowds grew consistently larger. Their show of defiance led to the repeal of laws prohibiting LGBT gatherings, which culminated in NYC’s first Pride march one year later.

Holter’s unique take on this groundbreaking episode was first performed at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre in 2012. For its LA premiere, Sawyer and his design team are completely re-configuring the Davidson/Valentini Theatre’s interior to make the experience of watching the play as immersive as possible. The theatre is located at the LGBT Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place in Hollywood. Due to the immersive nature of this production, late seating will not be allowed so ticket holders should be sure to get there on time.

Although Hit the Wall depicts an event that occurred nearly 50 years ago, the playwright reportedly employs a modern sensibility in bringing it to life. “What’s perhaps more significant (about the play),” wrote New York Times critic David Rooney, “is that Mr. Holter is working in a vernacular that speaks sincerely and directly to today’s gay youth; his freewheeling play invites them to honor the earlier generation that broke the chains of marginalization and invisibility.”

Tickets for Hit the Wall are $30 (only $20 for its three preview performances) and may be purchased online at their website or by calling (323) 860-7300.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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