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The Temperamentals at Mockingbird Theatre - Review

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by Sean Goedecke (subscribe)
Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
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A few brave men speaking up
The Temperamentals is a play about the founding of the Mattachine Society, the first serious pro-gay rights society in the United States. It's a play about the political and the personal, and how difficult it can be to maintain a loving relationship and enact serious political change at the same time. Although there's a lot of moral in the play, The Temperamentals is driven by character, not message, and it's a better play for it.

In the Mockingbird Theatre production, director Chris Baldock works magic with his five-man cast, managing to portray something close to fifteen different characters. The fact that all these characters - even the bit parts - are distinctive shows off the strength of the actors. Angus Cameron in particular plays everything from pedantic activist Chuck to the refined crypto-homosexuals of high society, and comes off very convincingly in all roles. Although some of the supporting characters tend towards caricature, the five founding members of the Mattachine Society are well-rounded and engaging.

harry hay temperamentals
Harry Hay getting in touch with his inner selves.

Playwright Jon Marans neatly avoids sentimentality by making his main characters just unlikeable enough. Sparkling queer Bob is a racist and a bigot. Passionate activist Harry tends to bully those around him. Chuck and Dale are obnoxious in general. Perhaps only Rudi - a quiet, kind fashion designer who smooths out many awkward moments in the group - is completely sympathetic, due largely to Tim Constantine's standout performance in the role.

Baldock doesn't whitewash the sometimes-grimy business of activism. His characters manipulate and bully until the "unanimous vote" that ostensibly serves as their fundamental policy comes across as darkly comic. It's sometimes painful to watch Harry's high ideals come into contact with the solid realities of 1950s culture, and the end of the first act - when Dale is browbeaten into serving as the figurehead for their campaign - seems more cultish than heroic.

the temperamentals
The Mattachine Society strikes a pose.

The play itself is held at the Brunswick Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre on Sydney Road. It's a charming little theatre: get in early to get good seats, but you'll have a good view regardless. The intimacy of the setting works well for the scenes in the second act where the players interact with the audience more. Don't worry, there's no awkward crowd participation, but prepare at one point to hold hands with the person next to you. If going with a group, position yourself strategically away from your friend with the sweatiest palms.

All things considered, The Temperamentals is a nice character study with a bit of history thrown in. While the two elements work well together, the character study dominates. It's not a documentary-style production, despite the "here's what happened next" epilogue. The Temperamentals is running until February 1st, with tickets ranging from $27 to $37. If you're even passingly interested in queer culture, history, or geometrical fashion design, go see it.
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*Sean Goedecke was invited as a guest
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Why? To take in some historical theatre
When: Doors open at 8pm
Where: Brunswick Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre, Cnr Glenlyon and Sydney Roads, Brunswick, VIC 3056
Cost: $27-$37
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