by Ike Holter
Directed by Eric Hoff
Barrow Street Theatre

Reviewed by David Spencer

The first night of the 1968 Stonewall riots “from the inside” as it were, is the canvas of Ike Holter’s Hit the Wall, at the Barrow Street Playhouse. Like a lot of plays meant to examine the effect of a circumstance upon a society—come to think of it, like all of them—the stock-in-trade of the play is archetypes. To mention only a few: Carson (Nathan Lee Graham) a black drag queen who is both proud and terrified; Peg (Rania Salem Manganero) a young butch lesbian; the uptight older sister (Jessica Dickey) who would pave the way for family re-acceptance if Peg would only “hold it in”; Alex (Matthew Greer), a bigoted cop so arbitrarily brutal that the obvious question (is he in denial?) never has to be articulated; and about half a dozen others.

                  Because the archetype-collection is the inevitability of an ensemble social-awareness play, and because the template is far more transparent a device than it used to be upon first appearance (when the likes of A Raisin in the Sun [1959] and the Boys in the Band [1968], upon their debuts, were examples of bracing candor—among my favorite plays, lest that seem dismissive),  Hit the Wall has inspired a much different kind of controversy than its predecessors, both milder and more cynical; and that because enjoyment of the play depends in part on your willingness to buy into the contrivance of a cross section that hits so many representative colors on the standard-issue palate—and in part upon your suspension of disbelief that the neatly categorized cross-section represented was intersecting at the heart of the conflagration. (The play’s repeated documentary-style refrain, “The reports of what happened next are not exactly clear,” provides a good deal of literary license.)

                  What allows you to get past that, if you’re willing to take the ride, is the particularization of the characters, the memorable details that transcend archetype. And in this, Holtzer and his cast have created several portraits you may well find indelible. This is aided and abetted with great élan by director Eric Hoff, whose more or less in-the-round staging (well, anyway, there’s audience on all four sides of the auditorium, which for this engagement has been configured into a somewhat larger-than-usual black box) puts you right in the thick of it along with the characters. Personally, I thought it was an exhilarating and important evocation of a turning point in history. As to what you think…you’ll only know that after you attend, which I recommend highly.

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