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Judy at the Stonewall Inn|
January 20-February 24, 2006
Review by Bill Kaiser
January 22, 2006
“Judy at the Stonewall Inn” is a fictionalized account of the events leading to the “Stonewall Rebellion,” which marked the beginning of the modern GLBT movement. In June 1969, at the Stonewall bar, the police began their customary, arbitrary arresting of gay men and those in drag. This was the first time their abuse of power met with resistance. It sparked a riot, which inspired gay men and lesbians throughout America to stand up for their civil rights and for sexual freedom.
The Stonewall period of GLBT history lends itself to dramatization and mythology, which “Judy at the Stonewall Inn” has in abundance.
Playwright Tom O’Neil has posed the premise that the funeral of Judy Garland had a direct impact on why drag queens, and others, choose June 1969 to militantly stand up against police oppression.
The play, through its dialogue and atmosphere, invoke a period prior to gay liberation, which few of us truly understand today. This play captures that period of time when selling alcohol to a known homosexual was illegal, and being perceived as gay could get you fired.
The actors do a remarkable job. Amanda Abel is a standout as the confused Judy Garland, who wants to know why she is seen as an icon to our community. Equally superb is Michael Taylor Gray, as Jimmy, the worst Judy Garland impersonator, who finally develops the strength and courage to stand up to the oppression.
All the characters grow emotionally, including Jackson, played by Keith E. Wright, who realizes that the Mattachine Society’s slower evolutionary tactics did not work. Carmine, the Mafia club manager, discovers he really cares about the go-go dancer Brendon, played by Billy Briggs.
The other characters, who convince us of their emotional growth, include Winston, played by Jon Powell, and Jesus, played by Johnny Debut.
The play’s mise-en-scene is set by the by Director Livingston, who gives great attention and care in evoking the historical importance, as well as emphasizing the show’s entertainment value.
The play’s excellent atmosphere is also created by its set designer Kurt Boetcher, costumer Marjorie Baer, sound engineer Cricket S. Myers, and lighting designer Carol Doehring.
It is fitting that this historically-oriented piece be performed at Celebration Theatre, LA’s oldest, continuing, self-identified GLBT theater.
The play was originally performed in New York City in 1994, and other cities such as San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Houston. The passage of time seems give the play more significance.
The long-awaited Los Angeles premiere of “Judy at the Stonewall Inn” has been well worth the wait. This is a must-see production.