Review: The Temperamentals

Originally reviewed for

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you must see this. Not just because it’s an excellent gay-themed production. Not just because it’s a chance to see Michael Urie of Ugly Betty fame in a live theatre setting, showing some very strong acting chops. No, you must see this because it brings to life an essential but too-little known part of gay history, in a surprisingly moving and engaging way.

The Temperamentals is, more than anything else, the story of two men in love in the early 1950s: sometime actor and constant activist Harry Hay (Thomas Jay Ryan) and the fashion designer Rudi Gernreich (Urie). Above and beyond their mutual sexual attraction and romantic feelings, they both passionately commit to building the first gay rights organization in American history, the Mattachine Society.

Urie is winsome and whip-smart as Gernreich, but the performance that most elevates this production is Ryan as Hay. Hay is one of my very few personal heroes, and Ryan vibrantly portrays everything that I found admirable about him: his lightly borne erudition, his love of revolution, his spiritual sense of the place of gays in the world, his puckish humor and his habit of tearing up when politics and music mix (happens all the time to me too).

The Temperamentals is the little show that could. It started in 40-seat black box for a sold out run, and promptly moved to a larger Off-Off-Broadway house. Now, after a bit of a break, it has moved to the New World Stages Off-Broadway complex. Director Jonathan Silverstein has managed to preserve the “you are there” intimacy of the original black box.

Perhaps the most noticeable upgrade is in designer Clint Ramos’s costumes. Several key moments involve Hay discovering his “plumage” — clothes that leave no doubt that the wearer is gay — at first a flamboyant woman’s shawl. In the original production, near the end, Hay put on some vaguely genderfucking outfit that signified his evolution into the founder of the Radical Faeries. It was moving, but now Ryan dons an even more colorful outfit that identifiably resembles clothes Hay actually wore, which deepens the impact.

I repeat – you must see this! This lovely and rewarding show needs to be seen by the broadest audience possible, but for gay men, it is required viewing!

For tickets, click here.

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