Ghostly white sculptures of gays fraternize forever in Christopher Park, that triangular brick-laid isle South of the Stonewall Inn and East of Village Cigars in the heart of the West Village. You couldn't ask for a more site-specific spot to hold a press conference for Hit the Wall, a 90-minute encapsulation of the Stonewall riots of 1969.
"I'd say 60 percent of the play takes place right where we're standing," declared Ike Holter, whose concise saga opens March 10 a long block away at the Barrow Street Theatre.
"It's not a play about queer rights — it's a play about civil rights and human rights. It follows ten characters through 24 hours — pre-riot, during riot, and post-riot, and these are the riots still celebrated with Gay Pride Day every last Sunday in June."
This heroic, historic stand that gays made against hammering police harassment in the sweltering early-morning hours of June 28 more than 43 years ago was, socially, a tide-turner of tsunamic proportions. A community was galvanized that night.
Momentous as it was, the incident has never truly received the epic depiction that it deserves, on stage or on screen. A 1995 film called "Stonewall," directed by Nigel Finch and featuring Guillermo Diaz, Frederick Weller, Isaiah Washington and Bruce MacVittie, made a pass at the material. Renowned director and playwright Tina Landau staged a site-specific piece she wrote called Stonewall: Night Variations, in front of the Stonewall Inn in 1994. And film and television documentaries have weighed in on the subject from time to time.
It finally appears, based on the critical hosannas that greeted Hit the Wall when it surfaced last year in Chicago, that this benchmark event has been met with a play of appropriate power and passion. If so, it comes from an unexpected generation.
At the time when a gaggle of drag queens struck their blow for justice, Holter was minus 18 — and his director, Eric Hoff, only five years older — but this generation gap appears to agree with them, enhancing their empathy. Distance does that, it seems.
"Eric and I have been working on this a couple of years — we've done different shows in between, but we've always come back to this one," said Holter. "We did it in Chicago — twice — and we're still putting finishing touches on it. We've been talking to a few Stonewall riot people and getting their perspective and slipping that into the play. It's kind of a surreal experience to walk around here 30 seconds, then suddenly have to sit down and start rewriting in the actual places where the events happened.
"I've always wanted to write about Stonewall. As a young kid coming out I heard a little bit about the riots; they weren't exactly taught in school. One day I caught a snippet of 'Oh, you know, there was this great gay rebellion where the queers fought back.' I went, 'What!' — this was pre-Google, mind you, and I went crazy trying to research it and find out as much as I could about it. In fact, I began to obsess over it."
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