Monday, August 3, 2015





By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer


Before there was Stonewall, before there was Act Up, there was the Mattachine Society, the first gay rights organization in the United States.  Mauckingbird Theatre Company, dedicated to gay-themed theater, presents The Temperamentals by Jon Marans, about the founding of this organization. This is a history play, meant to inform and inspire. Which it does, sort of. 

It’s the bad old days of the late 1940s and early 1950s in Los Angeles, when homosexuals were all closeted and when the House UnAmerican Activities Committee was frantically pursuing communists or possible communists.  Homosexual communists had better be married and wearing a suit and tie if they wanted to survive.

Harry Hay (Matt Tallman), married with children and an ardent Communist as well as a gay man with a lover who turns out to be the clothing designer Rudi Gernreich (John Jarboe), a sexy Viennese Jew who had escaped the Nazis—both as  Jew and as a homosexual-- join forces with three other men, Chuck Rowland (Mike Dees) and Bob Hull(Doug Greene) and Dale Jennings (Carl Granieri).  The five of them, all political radicals, will found the Mattachine Society. 

Brief google moment: “Mattachine” was the name of a French medieval masque group who parodied the follies of royalty, an explanation nearly unintelligible as presented in this play. This  play’s title, “Temperamentals,” was a code name for “homosexuals,” assumed but unexplained in the play.

Actually, quite a lot is unexplained or muddled in Morans’ script. Is the play is intended to inform people (like me) who knew nothing of this history? Is the play intended for a young, gay audience who needs to know their legacy from the people who risked so much to gain them their civil rights? Is the play intended as a comment on the current right-wing attack on those civil rights?

It’s not enough for history to provide the facts; the playwright has to provide the plot and the characters (here entirely underdeveloped or, especially in the case of Harry Hay, incoherent); the director has to provide the atmosphere and the tone. Under the dual direction of Peter Reynolds and Brandon McShaffrey, the play veers from solemn sermonizing to sniggering winks and nudges, from odd bedroom scenes to complicated courtroom showdowns, from complaining about bad boyfriends to sappy declarations of loyalty, from understanding mothers to outraged wives.

The Temperamentals is full of interesting glimpses of an important story that never fully emerges.


Mauckingbird Theatre Co. The Skybox at the Adrienne, 3020 Sansom St. Through April 29. Tickets $15-25. Information: 215-923-8909 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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