The narrative begins in a Los Angeles restaurant in 1950, where middle-aged Harry Hay (Dennis Christopher), a British-bred Communist, and 29-year-old Viennese costume designer Rudi Gernreich (Erich Bergen) dine and flirt. Harry reveals that he has drafted the manifesto for an organization called the Mattachine Society, aimed at planting early seeds of gay activism. The couple's love affair—challenged by Rudi's Hollywood career demands—plays out alongside a colorful depiction of their attempts to forge political inroads in collaboration with three associate members (beautifully played by Mark Shunock, John Tartaglia, and Patrick Scott Lewis, who also appear in other roles). The script incisively illuminates the hazards of being openly gay during these times, as individuality was cloaked by generic business attire and stuffy behavioral codes. "Who says a stone can only have one true color?" asks the erudite Rudi.
Matthews fastidiously dovetails the design elements into a stylish reflection of the time and place. Christopher deftly illuminates the journey of a philandering family man who becomes a scarf-adorned member of a determinedly "out" social set. It's a splendidly layered portrayal, enriched with credible contradictions of human nature. Bergen is exemplary as the charming sophisticate Rudi, maximizing the dialogue's sharp humor. Lewis is at his best playing courageous Dale Jennings, a former police officer fighting sexual-solicitation charges. Tartaglia is flippantly funny as campy Southern cutup Bob Hull, the lover of Chuck Rowland (adeptly played by Shunock, who's also superb portraying closeted film director Vincente Minnelli).
The title, referencing a term used by Mattachine members to connote their homosexuality, epitomizes this play's invigorating blend of priceless historical tidbits and scintillatingly ironic wit.
Presented by the Blank Theatre Company at the 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. April 16–May 22. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (323) 661-9827 or www.theblank.com.