devouring theatre, film, and food
Maybe I’m just a faggot, but “Hit the Wall” is damn good.
In the intimate Steppenwolf Garage with an ensemble of only 8, the chaos and havoc of the Stonewall Inn riots is powerfully recreated by Chicago storefront The Inconvenience. At its climax, high-energy and expertly choreographed fight sequences rumble over original rock music and hushed lights to evoke the events of that night. But what comes before are a series of beautifully written and precisely performed scenes that introduce an eclectic mix of characters with a powerful mix of heart and sass.
Playwright Ike Holter has penned a compelling piece that back on that night not with nostalgia, but with angst, regret, and wit. Amongst the cast of characters are cat-calling stoop-sitters whose fuse is as short as their shorts, a confident transwoman who moves like water through water, and a feminist propagandist who sermonizes anyone unfortunate enough to stand in her way. Each is archetype, if not a caricature, and they are paired together like swatches of fabric to see what clashes and what syncs up.
A police officer, who stands up for the entire force used on the night of the riots, becomes an obvious villain in this tale of sexual liberation. There’s a heart-wrenching moment about two-thirds of the way through. Peggy, a tight-lipped stocky woman who wears a leather jacket and kisses girls, has been cornered by a police officer in the Inn. It’s June 1969, and a woman dressing like a man is a punishable crime. In a shadowy corner, the NYPD officer frisks Peggy and finds not a gun, drugs, or other illegal merchandise, but breasts. He grabs them hard, and then lowers his hand into her pants to confirm his suspicion.
The move is truly reprehensible.
While some scenes following this might be cut to maintain momentum, the piece is extremely well-paced and structured. Exposition is provided by presentational, overlapping voices of the cast, reminiscent of the documentary play “The Larmamie Project.” We’re told just how hot it was in New York that night, and how each character “needs a drink!” after a long and taxing day. The piece’s title is a play on “hitting the wall,” a term in endurance sports like running and cycling for a sudden loss of energy. The characters have hit the wall of persecution, but they have sparked a battle for LGBTQ rights that is an endurance sport of its own.
Early in the play, the characters talk about the street credit that comes with claiming “I was there” on the night of the riot. I wasn’t alive in 1969, so I can’t say I was there when a hot night in a bar sparked a fight that still wages, but I can say I was there when a Chicago storefront debuted a powerful play that can move you to tears and laughter as it shakes its fists and its ass.
When you enter the Steppenwolf Garage through April 8, 2012, try not to Hit the Wall. More information atwww.steppenwolftheatre.org.