Magazine article The New Yorker

Down but Not Defeated

Magazine article The New Yorker

Down but Not Defeated

Article excerpt

The lighting that Jeff Glass designed for Ike Holter's "Hit the Wall" (at the Steppenwolf Garage, in Chicago) is so authoritative that it feels like a set in itself. With chiaroscuro effects, Glass evokes a night and a very early morning in New York in June, 1969, at the start of the Stonewall riots. Six characters take the stage and, looking out at the audience--we're sitting more or less in the round--all claim to have been there, "there" being in or near the Stonewall Inn, a bar on Christopher Street, where gay men and women, reportedly inspired in part by the recent death of Judy Garland, fought back against a police raid, and a riot ensued. (Some claim this as the beginning of the gay-rights movement.) But life teaches us that everyone is an unreliable narrator, especially when it comes to the ways in which personal stories dovetail with historical events. How much or how little should we believe of what these characters say, as they dart in and out of Glass's dark world, sometimes telling lies? As Carson (the astonishing Manny Buckley), a tall, thin drag queen, points out, "If every sissy who said she was at Stonewall was actually at Stonewall, shit, you coulda seen that rainbow from outer space, please."

After seeing "Hit the Wall" (and being moved to tears several times at the thought of all those lives lived, which will eventually be forgotten), I couldn't get certain faces out of my head, especially that of the actor Arturo Soria, whose portrayal of Tano, a gossipy but not insensitive Puerto Rican queen, reminded me of friends from my youth, who didn't live long enough to know that queer life could be different. Dressed in a snug polo shirt and shorts, his sneakers a little worn at the heels, Tano dreams of being butch and despises himself for his softness. His shield is his smart mouth--and his ability to run away from the disasters that his comments set off. Like a young Al Pacino or Tony Musante, both of whom Soria resembles physically--he is dark-haired, with a noble but imperfect profile--Tano is amped up and desperate to be loved as the macho he longs to be. He's a victim as much of his own idea of masculinity as of the straight world's idea of what a man should be.

Tano's great friend on Christopher Street is Mika (the charming Desmond Gray). The two spend their time commenting on the passing parade--and the passing trade. Carson, the one person who threatens to eclipse their youthful beauty and bravado, "reads" them, as only a brave drag queen can:

Look upon me.

Behold

a true-blue bitch

through and through.

. . . . Look upon one who has seen the end and cross yourselves in fear of the eternal damnation and repercussanial happenstance that awaits the fate of the fakes who try to put me in my place,

Lookuponmemotherfucker

I. Know. You. Well.

You, black-thing, mandingo, tank-top, speedo,

You, Guido, Latino, el stupido

bottom, bottom feeder,

Never met a dick you couldn't lick,

Never met a dick you didn't like,

I know your type,

Creeping like a cockroach in the night out of mind out of sight cause y'all sissies just don't look right in the light,

Hell I've seen better bitches uptown at the dogpound before the city puts em down,

You mouth-breathing pimple-popping pot-pushing no-dicked hypocrites,

get off my stoop get out my park and go roll around in the dark . . .

and bark with the rest of the mutts who slut it up after dusk ya pencil-dicked-half-slit-pocket-broke-beer-bellied-cock-eyed-limp-wristed-ass-swishin-day-drinkin-un-thinking-lily-livered-fish-smelling-faggots.

Holter's writing can sound like Gwendolyn Brooks's "In the Mecca," by way of Essex Hemphill's joyous blasphemies. He focusses on the words first--they are balls to be juggled, dropped, and picked up again--and the dramatic shape second. But the loose structure of the show only enhanced for me the sense that I was eavesdropping on a complicated chain of gossip as it was passed from person to person. …

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