nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 9, 2007
Will & Grace...Queer Eye for the Straight Guy...Don't Ask, Don't Tell...Same Sex Marriage Bans. A prominent business executive and a state governor are disgraced when their same-sex affairs come to light; a basketball star outs himself and it doesn't seem to faze anyone. Ellen De Generes hosts the Oscars; and a key Bush administration figure and a Republican presidential candidate have to apologize for being publicly homophobic.
Does the gay community—does the rest of the world—need to know and remember the history of the gay civil rights movement? Never more than now, I'd argue.
Gayfest NYC 2007 opens with a play that performs this very valuable service for the theatre-going public. Michael D. Jackson's Revolution recounts pivotal moments in the formation of what was then called the "Gay Liberation" movement. Act One, which is superb, traces events up to the Stonewall Riot; Act Two, not quite as sure of itself, covers subsequent events, culminating in the first Gay Pride celebrations a year later in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
Revolution combines the docudrama format of plays like The Laramie Project with a fictionalized throughline tracing the maturation/coming out of a young man named Tom (whose history is borrowed from Robert Anderson's Tea & Sympathy). Tom arrives at Columbia University in 1968, where he joins the country's first gay students' organization. He visits the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop on Christopher Street (the country's first gay book store). And, on a date with fellow student Harry, he happens to be at Stonewall Inn on June 27, 1969, the night that some of the drag queens there decided to fight back against the police who were raiding the bar with increasing frequency.
Interwoven with Tom's story are accounts of other significant events in the early history of the fight for gay civil rights. Some of what Jackson unearths in this play is shocking while some of it may be familiar. All of it makes for a potent reminder that there have been (and still are) segments of the American population who are systematically denied the same rights as other Americans, and against whom discrimination is institutionalized and even encouraged by societal norms. Revolution is about a national shame, but it's also about great pride and courage.
Jackson inserts Judy Garland (whose funeral was on the same day as the Stonewall Rebellion) into the play, which for me proved a distraction. But Revolution overall is terrific history and terrific theatre; whether you're gay or straight, or old enough to remember the Stonewall Riot or young enough to not really know what it was, you need to see it.
Jackson directed the play himself, in a fast-moving, economical production. A cast of eight, anchored by the likable Corey Boardman as Tom, portrays the play's dozens of characters; particularly noteworthy are Nick Potenzieri as Craig Rodwell (the Oscar Wilde's founder) and Jennifer Perry as Del Martin, one of the founders of the early lesbian activist group, the Daughers of Bilitis.