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A CurtainUp Review
Hit the Wall
"Listen I know what you are, what you really are. And I'm not the smartest guy in the world, so, if I know-everybody else knows too." — Cop
Hit the Wall
Rania Salem Manganaro and Matthew GreerA
(Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)
When you go to the archives of the Stonewall Riots, you get a broad sense of what happened in the early morning hours of June 28th, 1969. When you go to Ike Holter's new play Hit the Wall at the Barrow Street Theatre, you get a sizzling re-enactment of that night that birthed the Gay Liberation Movement

Holter's work, directed by Eric Hoff, is a fictive drama based on the actual event. It began its life at the Steppenwolf's Garage Rep. Series in 2013, and is suitably making its New York premiere not far from the Stonewall Inn. Although Holter only skims the surface of what is a larger real-life narrative, he gives you a moon's-eye view why the gays fought back against the New York City Police on the first night of the riots.

A quick rundown, in case some of the facts have slipped your memory: The place was the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, New York City, at the aforementioned date and time. The routine police raid on this popular underground gay bar irritated the regulars. As police began to humiliate and taunt them, tempers flared up and a riot broke out. The rest, history.

Holter's play contextualizes this key event by framing it with before-and-after scenes in Christopher Park. He begins his narrative on June 27th, in the evening hours well before the time the police arrived on the scene. He ends the piece after the police have left the Stonewall Inn and the gays are coming to grips with their emerging gay identity.

Hit the Wall is a very in-your-face theatrical presentation. Instead of verbal eloquence or political rhetoric, you watch gutsiness and grit come alive in an intimate performing space. The language brims with profanity, and sass.

Some characters have acute cases of logorrhea and can't spit out their words fast enough. Others are taciturn, and find it difficult to speak their mind. But everybody does, sooner or later though it's sometimes difficult to catch all the words rolling off everybody's tongues. Much of the dialogue overlaps adding to the There's much overlapping of dialogue, and an urgent tone that dominates all the conversations. Even the longueurs that waft through the air are filled with tension and danger as each individual inches ahead through a series of volatile situations, as if walking on thin ice, trying to get to safer ground.

The characters populating this play are, to say the least, colorful. There's Roberta (Carolyn Michelle Smith), an African-American hustler. Puerto Rican-born Tano (Arturo Soria) and the dark-skinned Mika (Gregory Haney) make up the "Snap Queen Team" and specialize in wise-cracking and flirting.

When it comes to acting and looking "butch," Peg (Rania Salem Manganaro) has it down to a manly science. There's even some ivy-league flavor here in the Harvard student and stud A-Gay (Sean Allan Krill).

Rounding out the posse we have party-monger Newbie (Nick Bailey), Peg's straight sister Madeline (Jessica Dickey), the weed-smoking drifter Cliff (Ben Diskant), the tall, black, and tight-lipped Carson (Nathan Lee Graham) and the family-man Alex (Matthes Greer). And let's not forget the cops. The rhythm and beats of the Stonewall Band insinuae that the times are a-changin'.

Hit the Wall is provocative enough to raise goose-flesh on the back of your neck. Spoiler alert: The police behavior towards the gays and lesbians in this play is very disturbing. This is not for the weak-stomached or anyone with a low-toleration for in your face stage business.

The acting overall is crisp, as is the directing. Laura Helpern's scenic design is convincing, and Keith Parham's lighting is scorchingly right, especially when the police enter with their flashlights blazing.

There is a loose end within the play's structure in the continual drift of conversation to Judy Garland. Although her death on June 22, 1969 by a pill overdose was probably the buzz of New York that week, the Judy are not fully integrated into the dramatic fabric Perhaps Holter was attempting to link her legenary "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" with the rainbow-colored flag, which would become emblematic of the Gay Liberation Movement. At any rate, he might consider reworking the Judy Garland motif and aligning it more with his hit-the-wall theme.

This 90-minute play scores on many levels and casts new contemporary light on the Stonewall Riots. Attention should be paid.

Hit the Wall
Written by Ike Holter
Directed by Eric Hoff
Cast: Nick Bailey (Newbie), Jessica Dickey (Madeline), Ben Diskant (Cliff), Nathan Lee Graham (Carson), Matthes Greer (Alex McArthur), Gregory Haney (Mika), Sean Allan Krill (A-Gay), Rania Salem Manganaro (Peg), Carolyn Mitchell Smith (Roberta), Arturo Soria (Tano), Jonathan Mastro, Ray Rizzo, Indigo Street (Stonewall Band).
Sets: Lauren Helpern
Costumes: David Hyman
Lighting: Keith Parham
Original Music & Music Supervision: Dan Lipton
Fight Direction: J. David Brimmer
Stage Manager: Bethany Russell
Barrow Street Theatre at 27 Barrow Street, Manhattan. Tickets: $35-$75. Phone 212/868-4444 or visit www.smarttix
From 2/19/13; opening 3/10/13.
Tuesday through Sunday @ 7:30pm. Saturday & Sunday matinees @ 2:30pm
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 3/0810/13
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