come a long way! Haven’t we? I’m often the cynic, so I’m hoping
that my conversation with Marans will make me feel optimistic about
where we are, and especially where we’re heading in our own
current civil rights efforts.
Jon Marans | “It’s interesting how it’s radicals that first form
something, and then it’s those moderates that come in and create
Those first, social radicals had to conduct most of their activities in
secret, gathering out of site...they laid out the framework for future
activists to come out of the closet. In the play The Temperamentals
written by Jon Marans and directed by Jonathan Silverstein the
origins of the Mattachine Society are explored. This was the first
organization of gay men dedicated to instituting social reform and
equality for all homosexuals in the United States. Their efforts were
mostly coordinated in secrecy, the Mattachine’s also produced the
Mattachine Review which was among the nation’s first gay
JM | “These brave men stood up in a time when it was actually crazy
to stand up. With regards to Stonewall, the sexual revolution had
come along so already we’re in the midst of all of that protest -- so it
made sense. But for those guys back in the 1950’s to do something
like this...it took lunatics! It took people who were politically on the
On Harry Hay, one of the lead characters in his show (played by
Thomas Jay Ryan) Marans tells me why Harry was such an amazing
historical figure to explore as a writer. Hay conceived of the idea of
the Mattachine Society.
www.ambiente.us MAY | MAYO 2010
The Temperamental | Jon Marans
By JC Alvarez
Jon Marans is rewriting history. Or perhaps more apropos the Pulitzer Prize finalist and
playwright of the hit The Temperamentals continuing it’s successful Off-Broadway run,
is revisiting the history of the earliest civil rights movement and the individuals that
started the fight. Many assume that it isn’t until the late 60‘s and the now infamous
Stonewall Riots that the gay community mobilized itself and began to seriously
challenge the issues of social injustice that continue till today brand us as second
class citizens. But Marans’ play goes a step further and delves deeper to reveal the
background of one of the first, great leaders and the origins of the Mattachine Society.
Marans begins by taking me back to where it all begins with his play The
It was a time of intense prosecution in America.
The post-war hysteria of “McCarthyism” drove many into hiding considered to be
cavorting in what some viewed as questionable and/or un-American activity. Many
feared communism and other subservient groups to be taking a foothold and
corrupting our idealistic freedoms in the States. This included anyone who engaged in
what some considered “deviant”
behavior, and that often brought prosecution upon the gay and
lesbian community, which was forced to gather in the shadows
and keep their numbers out of the public’s scrutiny. Boy...we’ve
MIAMI RIVER INN
JM | “Harry Hay was joyously unapologetic about who he was which,
was so hard to be back in his day. We’re not born into gay families.
If you’re Jewish, if you’re African American -- you’re taught to be
proud of who you are. When you’re growing up gay, that’s just not in
you. For Harry Hay to have had that in him in 1950, when so many of
us still don’t have that today -- that, to me, is astounding! And he
was a visionary -- he saw the future.”
And that future is what inspired Harry Hay to progressively pursue
activism; to promote and improve the rights of gay Americans.
JM | “I didn’t have any knowledge of gay history because no one is
passing that along to us. It’s not being taught. It’s not like we have
the elder gay people to sit us down and teach us our history. It is our
But Harry Hay wasn’t the most likable individual; it’s a wonder that
he actually embarked on creating a movement. It isn’t until he
meets and finds a contemporary in Rudi Gernreich, an ambitious
fashion designer and fellow activist, that he realizes the worth in the
cause. The two became lovers
JM | “If Harry hadn’t fallen in love with Rudi Gernreich (played by
Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie) the Mattachine Society would have never
happened. I think we always see that in relationships...one person
who is so difficult and the other that is so darn charming. It’s all
based on the love of these two men and the fact that they were both
such political animals.”
Both men are such stark contracts, yet are indomitably connected.
JM | “Rudy is the guy, that when people see the play, they connect to.
Rudy is the modern guy. Those Harry Hay types, I think, are rare.”
I blame the lack of momentum to the gay civil rights movement largely
on how we’re portrayed in films and television.
JM |“The problem with the way we’ve been depicted in media is just
that we haven’t been talked about in a serious way. We’re always the
stereotypical character that they want to see on TV -- the one that’s non-
Our strengths in our community are most prominently displayed in the
arts, I mean, just look at the career of Rudi Gernreich who while
pursuing his activism became one of American pop-culture's
most influential designers. I think it’s important that our voice is heard
in plays like The Temperamentals. But is that enough to help make
gains in our struggle?
JM |“The arts has something to do with it, but we don’t have the
organization that other groups have. Like the Mattachine Society we’ve
needed someone famous to sign on board to make things pop -- most
gays and lesbian just want to fit in and have the same rights as
I don’t like to look towards celebrities to be our leaders I’m grateful for
their efforts though.
JM |“I think it’s important that celebrities are open -- that’s the big thing!
But imagine...it isn’t easy for them -- they have to do it
everyday, and no matter what they have to bring it up every time. Straight
people don’t have to do that. It’s up to us (in the gay and lesbian
community) to be united and then stand behind whomever that leader will
Activism does appear to be something that is cyclical in nature, and we’re
in the middle of yet another modern day movement. Even in our present
history, with the first African-American President in office, we still have a lot
of work in front of us -- yet the path is clearly laid out for us.
JM | “History does keep repeating over and over.”
It’s a very important message, the struggle of the Mattachine Society, for
future generations of gays and lesbians and especially those that are
unfamiliar with our history.
JM | “When I was first putting The Temperamentals together I couldn’t get it
on to save my life. Nobody wanted to touch it. Everyone saw it as just this
‘history story’. But then a couple of things began to happen -- history
collided! Prop 8 happened. Then the film Milk...and President Obama got
elected. It’s time to move onto the next civil rights issue. This is our time...
this is the moment.”
Jon Marans in the playwright of The Temperamentals currently playing at
the New World Stages in New York City, NY and was also featured as one
of OUT Magazine’s Class of 2009 OUT 100 Honorees.
CLICK HERE for more JC Alvarez
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