|« Victory Gardens' Death and the Maiden Tells a Strong and Unsettling Story||Meet Cute: the Success of Dating: Adults Embracing Failure »|
Theatre Fri Jun 27 2014
It's a shame that Hit the Wall ended its run early at the Greenhouse Theater, before its original closing date scheduled for the same day as the pride parade. Many people forget or are unaware that the pride parade in Chicago occurs the last weekend of June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Hit the Wall retells the story of the riots, reminding us of the power of queer resistance. The play first premiered as part of Steppenwolf's Garage Rep in 2012 and played at Theater on the Lake before moving Off-Broadway to New York's Barrow Street Theatre. It returned home to Chicago this spring with most of the original cast intact.
As the audience entered the theater, it felt as if we were walking into a gay dive bar. The cast lured members of the audience onstage to dance along to a live band. Steve Lenz, who played a romantic beatnik traveler named Cliff, asked people if they had a cigarette. An energetic revolutionary played by Shannon Matesky handed out fliers to recruit people for WILD (Women Internationally Learning Divisiveness), whose rules were to "fight the man, fuck the pigs, and do not trust the gays." During the raid scene, a thick mustachioed, intimidating cop played by Walter Briggs shined his white flashlight on the audience, making us feel as vulnerable to policing as the characters themselves.
Ike Holter's poetic writing structured the beautiful chaos onstage. The repetition of the phrase "The reports of what happened next are not exactly clear" emphasized the messiness of history, that queer history in particular is full of more questions than answers. Hit the Wall reminds us that our history is one of community rebellion. A community made up of homeless youth kicked out by their families, trans women of color, political activists, and sleazy gay white men. The phrase "I was there" reminded us that all of these people were present together at Stonewall.
Hit the Wall centered the stories of trans and gender nonconforming characters as those most affected by violence and policing in the community. It highlighted the story of a trans woman of color named Molly Minnelli, who was played by Manny Buckley. While Buckley's performance was phenomenal, I was disappointed they didn't take the opportunity to cast a trans woman in the role. Hiring a man to play the part seems to undermine the fact that trans women are women. I wonder how the show would've been different if a woman was chosen for the role. When the cop viciously pulls off Minnelli's wig in the middle of the raid, Sara Kerastas's character Peg grabs the cop's gun, points it at his face, and demands he give it back in an act of solidarity that I wish happened more often today.
Hit the Wall did not only expose the tensions between the queer community and the police. When Madeline, an uptight resident of Greenwich Village proclaimed to Minnelli, "this is my neighborhood, you're making people uncomfortable," I was reminded of the ongoing tensions in Boystown between its wealthy residents and the young queer and trans people who flock there to access resources unevenly distributed throughout the city. The play also portrayed tensions within the queer community, pointing out the trans misogyny of the gay men who harassed Minnelli, to whom she replied, "I am not a mister." Hit the Wall is an honest portrait of a defining moment in queer history that looks strikingly similar to the lives many of us lead today.
H. Melt is a poet and artist who was born in Chicago. Their work proudly documents Chicago's queer and trans communities. H. Melt has recently been published by Chicago Artist Writers, Lambda Literary, and THEM, the first trans literary journal in the United States. They are the author of SIRvival in the Second City: Transqueer Chicago Poems.