Off-Broadway Theater Review: HIT THE WALL (Barrow Street Theatre)

by Sarah Taylor Ellis on March 20, 2013

in Theater-New York

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HIT THE WALL

When Hit the Wall, Ike Holter’s new play about the 1969 Stonewall Riots, opened at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater’s Garage Rep last year, it quickly passed into theatrical mythology; reports from friends and fellow critics hyped a phenomenon. Holter’s play reimagines the Stonewall Riots from the firsthand perspective of the Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of HIT THE WALL at Barrow Street Theatrequeer community who pushed back against the police on the historic night of June 27, 1969. This week, it hit the stage of New York’s Barrow Street Theatre only blocks from the Stonewall Inn, yet the play falls short of its reported raw punch.

Hit the Wall opens on a naturalistic scene depicting the everyday interactions of this community of outsiders who face outside threats from offended straight citizens and – of course – the police patrolling Christopher Park. When night falls on Stonewall, the play snaps into a stylized world of strobe lights, music, and movement. Eric Hoff’s direction, Dan Lipton’s electric score, J. David Brimmer’s sharp fight direction, and Keith Parham’s striking lighting make for two particularly spectacular sequences: a drunken dance and the ensuing riots. In these moments, time slows and the audience is subsumed into Stonewall – an intertwined history of sex and violence.

Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of HIT THE WALL at Barrow Street TheatreOther moments of stylization are significantly less effective; transitions between the fragmentary moments in Act II are often clunky, and the unison incantations – “I need a drink” and “I was there” – can come across as cheesy and affected.

Holter bears the burden of representing a diverse queer community, and some characterizations come off broader than others. Still, I would like to think that Holter’s play deals not so much in stereotypes as in archetypes: the wide-eyed New York Newbie (Nick Bailey), bold African American dyke Roberta (Carolyn Michelle Smith), sassy compatriots Tano (Arturo Soria) and Mika (Gregory Haney).

The beating hearts of the play are drag queen Carson (Nathan Lee Graham) and butch lesbian Peg (Rania Salem Manganaro). The precarious lives of these gender deviants are given particularly nuanced treatment in the script, not to mention Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of HIT THE WALL at Barrow Street Theatremagnetic performances by Graham and Manganaro. Beneath Carson’s glamorous gowns and Peg’s button down shirts are tender, trembling human beings who would rather deflect their gaze and avoid trouble than confront the cops.

For a few glowing moments in Hit the Wall, the audience has the visceral experience of Stonewall in 1969. This essential act of reimagining history is enough to make Hit the Wall worth watching and worth remembering.

Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of HIT THE WALL at Barrow Street Theatrephotos by Matthew Murphy

Hit the Wall
Barrow Street Theatre
scheduled to end on April 28, 2013
for tickets, call 212-868-4444 or visit http://www.smarttix.com

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