Edmund White’s novel The Beautiful Room Is Empty ends with a depiction of the 1969 Stonewall rebellion, which the narrator experiences as something of a blur. One minute he’s on the dance floor at Greenwich Village’s most popular gay bar. The next, he’s on the street with a thousand other people inexplicably standing up to cops trying to raid the place. Before you know it, the gay rights movement is born. The crowd is surprisingly jubilant and full of wisecracks. “This could be the first funny revolution,” someone remarks.
Ike Holter’s thrilling new play covers the same events and captures the same spirit of giddy exhilaration. Though decked out in the trappings of docudrama (giving an update on time and temperature at the top of each scene, for instance), Holter’s script is a fictional imagining of the hours leading up to and including the riot in the lives of ten people who could have been there.
The Stonewall’s regulars comprised men, women, blacks, whites, Latinos, drag queens and undercover cops. Holter gives voice to each of these, usually in great cascades of words that ring with the pissed-off music of the powerless. He’s especially attuned to racial tensions within the LGBT community that can leave gays of color feeling like outcasts among outcasts. Among an excellent ensemble in Eric Hoff’s exuberant staging, it’s the performers playing these doubly marginalized characters who stand out—particularly Arturo Soria as a fast-talking Puerto Rican sissy, Manny Buckley as a ferocious yet regal drag queen and Shannon Matesky as a lesbian activist with the vocal patterns of a tent-meeting evangelist.