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Hit The Wall: Demythologizing The Stonewall Riots

A block or two away from the original Stonewall Inn, the Barrow Street Theater's performance of Hit The Wall excellently dramatizes the first night of the Stonewall Riots. On summer night in '69, policemen entered Stonewall, an underground gay bar, and attempted to apprehend its patrons, inciting a riot that reverberated throughout the LGBT community, sparking interest in gay rights and activism. The play mostly lets the event speak for itself, portraying the tensions between the diverse array of characters involved in the Riots, including the tensions between the LGBT community and the police. More impressively it helps demystify the Stonewall Riots, an event the LGBT community treats with legendary reverence, by showing how the breach against human rights surrounding the riots unified the community.

From the performance's onset, the catty fast-paced insults slung between Carson, an African American transvestite elegantly dressed in black (to mourn Judy Garland's death), and the ethnic gay duo Mika and Tano suggest tensions between the gay men and the transvestite, though these tensions are expressed in semi-playful terms. Later in the play, Peg asks Roberta if she wants to get a drink at Stonewall, to which Roberta replies that only gay men attend that bar and that it would be strange for them to go, suggesting tensions between lesbians and gay men. Later, after the Riots begin, we also see race tensions between Cliff and Tano, as Cliff propositions him, then suggests that gay minorities have brought the police's attention to Greenwich village which leads to an altercation between the two. These inter-communal tensions flesh out the characters' individuality within their community. This attention to the people involved with the Stonewall Riots made the performance.

During the riots, new tensions replace those already within the LGBT community, most obviously tensions between the police and the community, and their anger at the violation of their human rights. The policeman interrupts the dancing at Stonewall, lining the inhabitants up, and singling out the two cross-dressers for apprehension. He tears into these two poor people, ripping off Carson's wig, punching him, groping Peg and pushing her to the floor. As they're being taken outside a crowd harasses him, Peg loudly screams, “No more watching!” A violent, angry dance replaces the one that occurred within Stonewall just minutes before, as the LGBT community riots by throwing trash cans and overturning benches. The night is pierced with the echoed cries of “No more watching!”

This play’s nuanced look at the LGBT community before and during the Stonewall Riots provides the performance with a strong beginning and middle. However, the end works against the play’s attention to the characters’ humanity. The strong moments of the performance are places where the Riots were demythologized, where the attention was placed on the characters' plights, their pains and their will to fight. In the last scene of the play, all the actors on stage stare at the audience, repeating the mantra, “I was there,” which only emphasizes and re-mythologizes the event. This scene distracts us from the people involved with the Riots and refocuses our attention on the event itself, undoing the play’s attempt to draw us into the lives of the characters to relive their injustices. Unfortunately, because of this final scene, an air of self-indulgence permeates the entire play, as the event's legacy obscures the humanity of the characters.