ON the cover of the program for Mockingbird Theatre’s Midsumma production of The Temperamentals is the manifesto of the Mattachine Society, an organisation founded in the US in 1950 to improve the rights of homosexuals. The rough, typewritten document immediately sets the tone for the production, directed by Chris Baldock, who clearly takes its subject matter very seriously.

The Temperamentals tells the story of the Mattachine Society, following founder Harry Hay, his lover and his friends as they struggle with very basic issues of gay rights 20 years before the Stonewall Riots.

At the heart of the fantastic script by US playwright Jon Marans is the conflict between assimilation and revolution, with each man in his own way trying to navigate between ‘passing as normal’ and knowing they are different. Marans expertly interweaves what is fundamentally a political question with the lives of his central characters, each one a real-life part of the early days of the Mattachine Society.

Touting themselves as a company with a focus on developing and building acting ensembles, Mockingbird Theatre ultimately succeed with The Temperamentals on the basis of outstanding performances from the entire cast.

It is an absolute testament to the performances of the production’s two leads, Angelo De Cata as Harry Hay and Tim Constantine (who plays Hay’s lover Rudi Gernreich) that the many intimate scenes of the two characters just discussing their lives and their relationship are spellbinding. With little on-stage action, De Cata and Constantine’s scenes are carried by a believable, quiet intimacy.

Jai Luke and Sebastian Bertoli in particular fight it out to steal every scene they appear in, with Luke displaying impeccable comic timing and physicality as Bob Hull, while the physical subtleties of Bertoli’s performance bring confidence and a striking masculinity to the role of Dale Jennings. Angus Cameron has less to work with in the character of Chuck Rowland, but shows a particular flair for the script’s comedy.

For the most part The Temperamentals avoids historical docudrama’s dreaded info-dump, but Marans’ script is certainly at its worst when, particularly in the first act, he puts some pretty clunky lines into the mouth of De Cata’s Harry Hay. Given the script’s generally cracking dialogue, it’s a shame when these moments disrupt the flow of the story.

While the costuming is wonderful, the production also falls a little flat on set design. Although generally simple, the all-black set features a distracting painted floor, and awkward blocking means the set is also used oddly— entrances, exits and transitions from one part of the stage to another draw attention to themselves.

Despite this, the intimacy of the space at the Mechanics Institute and the wonderful performances by the entire ensemble make The Temperamentals a fantastic production. It demonstrates that smaller theatre companies can succeed at ambitious, character-driven works backed up by talented actors.

 

 

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