Street Theater (2002-2003)

by Doric Wilson

directed by Mark Finley

Chris Andersson, Sharron Bower, Jennifer Bryan, Jonathan Cedano, Joe DeFeo, Desmond Dutche, Kevin Held, Jamison Lee Driskill, Derek Ellis, Jamie Evermann, Ashley Green, Douglas Gregory, Nathan Johnson, Michael Lynch, Terrence M. McCrossan, Cheryl Orsini, Adam Raynen, Bruce Ward and Chris Weikel

Set in Greenwich Village June 28, 1969, shortly before the first brick was thrown at the Stonewall Inn, Doric Wilson’s legendary satire Street Theater follows the exploits of the cruisers, drag queens, undercover cops, dykes, hippies, mobsters and bystanders (innocent and otherwise) as they catapult toward the moment that changed the course of history.




Street Theater: In The Hours Before Stonewall
review by Bruce-Michael Gelbert

Doric Wilson’s 1982 play “Street Theater” is an exceedingly witty take on events on Christopher Street, in Greenwich Village, on June 27, 1969. The day culminated in the Stonewall Rebellion, symbolic start of the modern Gay Liberation movement, when gays first fought back during one of the all too frequent police raids on gay bars, in this case, on the Stonewall Inn. This month, “Street Theater” is enjoying a 20th anniversary revival, directed by Mark Finley and produced by Barry Childs, under the aegis of TOSOS (The Other Side of Silence) II, Wilson, Finley and Childs’ theater company. Early performances of Wilson’s work were given at the Mineshaft, the notorious backroom bar. A few years earlier, his “West Street Gang,” set in a waterfront watering hole, played at the Spike, a leather bar, leading to much use of the phrase “environmental theater.” The current run of “Street Theater” brings us back into a bar, the Eagle, in Chelsea.

With a cast of characters comprising diverse types found in the gay-lesbian- bisexual-transgender community of the time, plus assorted hangers-on, “Street Theater” is an ensemble piece, boasting few star turns, and the powers that be at TOSOS II have assembled a committed ensemble indeed, its members meshing well and, at the risk of employing a cliche, making the intricate play run like clockwork. Populating the street, in the hours before the Stonewall Rebellion, and commanding our attention are the good guys, the bad guys, and the merely annoying. They are, more or less in order of appearance, organized crime-connected bar owner Murfino (a swaggering Joe DeFeo); leather top man Jack (an aptly macho Bruce Ward); butch lesbian C.B. (Sharron Bower, conveying an easy self-assurance); flower child Heather (Jennifer Bryan, believably spacy but resourceful), dumped by a boyfriend who “went gay”; entrapment-minded vice cops Seymour and Donovan (Terrence M. McCrossan and Adam Raynen, suitably stolid in their portrayals), one of them harboring some intriguing secret desires; savvy street queens Ceil and Boom Boom (played with flair, en travesti, by Chris Andersson and Michael Lynch); classic closet case Sidney (Douglas Gregory, capable of the highest of dudgeons), who comes to see the light; new boy in town Timothy (Jamison Lee Driskill, projecting purest innocence); and “boys in the band” Michael and Donald, terminally oppressed, and zealous politicos Jordan and Gordon, terminally oppressive (Nathan Johnson and Ashley Green, Jonathan Cedano and Derek Ellis, all amusingly relentless). Period costumes, evoking an era of flower power and nascent political awareness, are by Chris Weikel and lighting by Sandy Baker. With Stonewall as its ebullient, inspirational finale, this “Street Theater” makes you want to rush out and march in a GLBT Pride Parade. (Internet – May 2002)

review by Mark Dundas Wood

The Stonewall riots that broke out in Greenwich Village in June 1969 were serious business —signaling that the “gay lib” movement was coming of age. But viewed in retrospect, Stonewall was also a kind of street theatre. And it was comic theatre at that: It had—if not a completely happy ending—a hopeful beginning.

Besides, drag queens were major players at Stonewall, and any revolution where the frontliners fuss about their eyeliner has an inherent comic element.

Playwright Doric Wilson, himself a Stonewall veteran, played up the laughter in his 1982 play on the subject, Street Theater. Now, in this updated version, director Mark Finley also wisely stresses the humor. He never lets the play get bogged down in melodrama or nostalgic self-

The cast members here are energetic and, without exception, fully committed to the material. In the close space of the Eagle bar in Chelsea, performers are sometimes literally inches away from audience members. Adopting a game, improvisatory spirit, the players maintain their poise even when disruptions occur (such as an audience member’s drink accidentally spilled “center stage”).

Though Wilson’s characters are unapologetically “types” (self-pampered preppies, humorless leftists, a spaced-out flower child), the best of the performers here add surprising nuances to their roles. As Jack, the “leather man,” Bruce Ward projects a twinkling-eyed self-awareness about his macho image. Sharron Bower, portraying a tough “PC” lesbian named C.B., finds unexpected vulnerability (especially when C.B. recites lines from Emily in “Our Town,” a role she played in high school while wearing her mother’s wedding dress). And Jamison Lee Driskill allows a startlingly hilarious moment of queen-wasp haughtiness to flare out in his portrayal of Tim, the supposedly clueless young hick from Oregon.

Finally, there’s a crowd-pleasing turn by Douglas Gregory as an overwrought closet queen named Sidney. A veritable case study in homosexual panic, Gregory’s Sidney spews an unrelenting tirade of frustration—except he’s just on the edge of exploding and then morphing into a militant pro-gay activist. (Backstage NYC – May 3, 2002)

review by Jonathan Warman

This is something special. The first full production from the reconstituted TOSOS II features actors whom, if you follow New York gay theater, you’ve seen before. They’ve tread the boards in productions by SourceWorks Theatre, the Vortex Theater and NativeAliens Theatre Collective to name a few. In other words, a lot of New York actors committed to gay theater have been gathered in one place to perform a dramedy about the days leading up to the Stonewall riots. It’s a better play than most new gay plays, and with this cast, this revival of Street Theater is truly a not-to- be-missed event in New York gay theater.

Doric Wilson’s play tells the story of those tense summer nights in 1969 from the perspective of Christopher Street at Sheridan Square, just outside of the Stonewall bar – thus the title Street Theater. The way Wilson tells it, the responsibility for the revolt lies with leathermen, street queens and punkish dykes. Middle-class queers don’t come off well: They’re represented by means of characters named for the self-hating queens in the play Boys in the Band, neurotic Michael (Nathan Johnson) and blaséé Donald (Ashley Green). All of which is historically accurate – the riots were largely the actions of a group Wilson has at times affectionately called ..Village faggots.. Sweater queens with low self- esteem and big hairdresser bills weren’t much help. Overly politicized queers come in for a few lashes, too, coming off as sanctimonious and hypocritical. The best of the riots, Wilson seems to be saying, came from a cry for freedom from the ..common people.. of the gay world. Do I hear an ..Amen!..

It also makes for a play that crackles, where the characters are all ..characters,.. full of eccentricities, full of life. Further, Wilson has rewritten and tightened the play for this production. He’s incorporated jokes about Rock Hudson, Malcolm Forbes and Liza Minnelli that would have been real head-scratchers at the time of its original production in the early ‘80s, but are totally hilarious now. The play shuttles back and forth between loving naturalistic portrayal of Christopher Street’s hothouse flowers and biting satirical caricature, to good effect.

The cast is uniformly fine, with roles as (intentionally) one dimensional as Michael given to actors as talented as Johnson. To stand out in this group, you have to Turn……It……Out! And Chris Andersson does just that, turning street queen Ceil into a comic star turn. I’ve long thought Andersson a remarkable comic talent, but he truly outdoes himself here. Michael Lynch gives delicious ..street.. tang to Ceil’s fellow street queen Boom Boom in an appropriately ..booming.. portrayal. Bruce Ward plays leatherman Jack – in some ways the play’s central character – and he potently works Jack’s lust, acid wit and simmering rage for all it’s worth.

Director Mark Finley has got the pace and energy of this play just right, but his ..runway.. staging is a hazard to the first row’s toes and knees in the cramped space at The Eagle. A small quibble, though, with what is arguably a landmark production. (HX Magazine NYC – April 26, 2002)

review by Chip Deffaa

There’s no funnier show now running off-off-Broadway than Doric Wilson’s Street Theater.

Although it’s had hundreds of production since it’s 1982 debut, this one includes major revisions by Wilson, a founding father of modern gay theater. He originally conceived it as a remembrance of friends who—like himself—were involved in the 1969 Stonewall Riots, which launched the Gay Liberation Movement.

The cast is unusually strong for off-off-Broadway. Michael Lynch (who recently stole the show in SourceWorks’ production of [Joe Godfrey’s] A Queer Carol) thoroughly owns his role as one mighty fierce drag queen — the same role he played in New York twenty years ago.

Jamison Lee Driscoll couldn’t be more perfect as the wide-eyed newcomer, so warned by mama that “vice runs rampant in the streets” of Greenwich Village that he’s got to see for himself.

Nearly every actor gets a chance to shine. And underneath all the bantering, Wilson’s broadly drawn comic characters — from student radicals to self-loathing sophisticates — have points to make. And a pre-Gay Lib era to evoke. (New York Post)

Internet interview with Doric Wilson

Q: Your play Street Theater was written in 1982. The Stonewall riots occurred in 1969. Why did it take more than a decade for this play to come to fruition? What happened in the intervening years that made it necessary to produce the play?

DW: I was there for all three nights of Stonewall, first as an observer, then as the crowd began throwing pennies at the cops and chanting “who takes the pay-offs” I became an active participant. I had been a victim of entrapment. In 1962 on the eve of the opening of my play And He Made a Her at the Cherry Lane, I allowed a stranger in a gay bar to buy me a drink. He turned out to be an undercover cop and I ended up in the “tombs.” The producer Richard Barr (a gentleman and a scholar) bailed me out and ultimately paid a $1000 bribe (half to the judge, half to the cop) to get the charges thrown out of court. I was already involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements, so I eagerly joined the crowd on Christopher Street happy at long last to be fighting for my own liberation. I became very active in the early Gay Lib movement and the emerging gay bar scene all the while continuing my theater work (Circle Rep, Barr/Wilder/Albee Playwrights Unit, etc.) but it never once occurred to me to try to put Stonewall onto the stage. The event was so multifaceted with so many separate stories it seemed only film or maybe dance could begin to encompass the complexity of that night. And then in 1980 I was walking along Christopher Street, and I heard a street queen answer “Mary, don’t ask” to a friend’s “how-ya-doing, hon” and I realized the story wasn’’t Stonewall but the people and the incidents on Christopher Street in the months, days and hours leading up to the night that gays finally fought back. Street Theater began to write itself.

Q: Street Theater was ground breaking in ’82. Today plays by and about gays are commonplace and often part of the mainstream theatre, so why revisit it?

DW: Indeed plays with gay characters are now commonplace and in an overwhelming number of these plays we die at the end just like we did in the gay novels I read in the 1950s. And I would hardly say lesbian characters are commonplace. Thanks to AIDS silencing some of our most eloquent voices and the religious right prohibiting even a passing reference to our community in public education, most young gays have almost no sense of their culture unless it is naked and singing. They have superficial or no knowledge of their own past. One of the reasons Mark Finley, Barry Childs and I revived TOSOS was to address this problem. Street Theater, because of the history it presents, is a perfect choice to begin with. And thanks to the generosity of the Eagle NYC, we can bring the play directly into our community even as we welcome the inclusion of a wider and diversified audience.

Q: TOSOS II is a reformation of your original TOSOS theatre company which gave a home to gay works. How different is the mission of this new company from the original? Tell us some of your thoughts about the need for this company today.

DW: New York City luckily has an abundance of gay and gay-friendly theaters (NativeAliens Collective; Emerging Artists; SourceWorks; WOW Cafe; etc.) that offer an outlet for new works. TOSOS II wants to augment this by investigating our past and keeping alive earlier voices. We also want to look again at recent plays that may have had a successful showcase but disappeared before they could find a larger audience. We are planning more concert readings like the LOOK AGAIN! series at the Center with plans to develop similar programs for the City’s public libraries. We also have created two new divisions of TOSOS II: The Billy Blackwell Musical Theater Project with Igor Goldin as director, and the Irene Kendall Women’s Theater Project, with Rebecca Kendall as director. The main purpose of TOSOS II is to try to develop a wider and more diversified audience for theater that speaks directly to our experience.

Q: Have you made any changes in the play or are we seeing it just as we would in ’82?

DW: Since Street Theater opened in 1982, the comedy has had hundreds of productions, most recently Theatre Arbutus (Vancouver, B.C.), the Quentin Crisp Theatre (San Diego) and the SNAP! Festival (Omaha), but I have never been happy with the second act. About ten years ago, I began major revisions based on performances I directed in Seattle and Los Angeles. Mark Finley’s TOSOS II production will be the premiere of this version. [an Italian translation is available from the author] (New York Theatre Review – March 30, 2002)