In the affable off-Broadway docudrama "The Temperamentals," playwright Jon Marans sheds light on the earliest efforts to create an organization to advocate for gay rights.
Marans clearly had a great deal of affection for his major characters, and that affection comes through loud and clear in a production at the Footlight Theater in Orlando's best-known gay resort, the Parliament House.
Under simple, straightforward direction by Michael Wanzie, the five men of the cast give their alter egos a TV sheen of likability. So Michael Colavolpe's rants, Michael Marinaccio's self-effacing accent, Doug Ba'aser's flamboyance — all become endearing.
This is probably all for the best: Although that comfort level strips away the danger these men faced in the 1950s, the men's easy familiarity creates an emotional bond that dispels the dryness of a typical history lesson.
For a history lesson this certainly is. The word "temperamental" was '50s slang for "homosexual," the way "gay" is today. In 1950 card-carrying Communist Harry Hay (Colavolpe), Austrian fashion designer Rudi Gernreich (Marinaccio), and three friends founded the Mattachine Society.
The society remained under the radar for a time, but gained some prominence when founding member Dale Jennings (Doa Farrentine) was charged with public lewdness in a police set-up. Eschewing the normal procedure of pleading guilty quietly, Jennings fought the charge in court with the backing of the society.
In the play, the politics and history are also tempered with the love story of Hay and Gernreich. Colavolpe and Marinaccio have a sweet awkwardness in their blossoming affection. They nearly blush as they brush against each other or nervously hold each other's hand for a moment.
Farrentine, Ba'aser and Russell R. Trahan all play multiple roles — the funniest being a parade of beachgoers who Hay and Gernreich think might be homosexual. Ba'aser's exaggerated mannerisms and witty one-liners add greatly to the humor necessary to keep the play from bogging down in melodrama.
Playwright Marans does sometimes take that melodrama to excess: "This document is the most dangerous thing I've ever seen," says Marinaccio, as Gernreich, upon reading Hay's pro-gay manifesto for the first time. "Count me in."
But Marans also knows how to have fun with his story's details: Hay and Gernreich have their assignations in the clock tower of a Catholic church. And he can play to a sympathetic crowd (or indicate how some things never change): Colavolpe, as Hay, rolls his eyes at stereotypically gay Judy Garland fans: "Their obsessiveness, it's embarrassing."
• What: A Wanzie Presents production of the Jon Marans play
• Length: 2 hours, including intermission
• Where: Footlight Theatre at the Parliament House, 410 N. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando
• When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17; 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 26
• Tickets: $15 in advance at wanzie.com; $18 at the door
• Call: 407-540-0317Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times