'The Temperamentals'

Nigel Reed as Harry and Alexander Strain as Rudi in "The Temperamentals" at Rep Stage. (Stan Barouh / September 9, 2012)

Churchill's play is steeped in Bush-era debates over terrorists, torture and foreign intervention. The two characters in the intense discussion are Sam (think Uncle Sam) and Guy, who leaves his wife and children to live with him.

Although Churchill doesn't mention gay rights in the script, the choice of two male characters adds a layer ripe with possible meaning.

"I'm trying to focus more on the relationship, rather than on the politics or Caryl Churchill's vision of America," Hoover said, "so that it's a play about two people, not just two symbols. I have the actors kiss very early into the play. We are very much making it a romantic relationship and looking at the blind love that a relationship can bring out in people. Guy blindly follows Sam, which isn't very logical or rational, given how Sam treats him."

In "Breaking the Code," a man's loyalty to his country is severely challenged when that country appears to turn on him. Turing cracked the Germans' Enigma code during World War II, a major contribution to the Allied victory, and he later laid the foundation for modern computers.

But when a relationship with a young, sexually ambivalent, working-class man put him on the wrong side of the law, the contributions Turing made to Britain's survival were forgotten. He suddenly became a security risk. After his conviction, he was sentenced to a hormonal treatment meant to neutralize his libido.

"To have given so much to his country and done it so enthusiastically, it was devastating for him to be treated like that," Horwitz said. "Turing was very committed to the truth, and he spoke most strongly to the idea that there is not one infallible rule, even in mathematics, you could define right and wrong by."

In the play, Turing says it is "shameful" for the state to interfere with private lives.

"He asks what the point is of a system that gives authority to people who don't deserve it," Horwitz said. "Right now in this country, we are seeing how personal rights are being redefined. It is a very dangerous time to be different. We're hoping that this play and the others we're doing this season will bring people to an understanding that it's OK to be different, and OK to disagree."

Coming to terms with being different, and accepting it proudly, is the primary message in "The Temperamentals," which focuses on Harry Hay and his friends who formed the first American gay rights organization, the Mattachine Society, in Los Angeles in 1950. "Temperamental" was one of the code words they used for "homosexual."

Today, the much-chronicled 1969 Stonewall riots in New York are widely considered the beginning of the modern gay rights movement, overshadowing Hay's much earlier risk-taking.

"Harry saw the world differently from everyone else, and he was joyously unapologetic about who he was," Marans said. "His attitude was: It's not my problem; it's your problem."

Marans built the play around Hay's relationship with fashion designer Rudi Gernreich (later best known for creating the topless bathing suit). It was a romance that helped Hay, married to a woman at the time, push open the closet door and charge fully into the Mattachine project.

"I was really surprised to find out I knew very little about all of that," said Rick Hammerly, who plays Mattachine pioneer Bob Hull in the Rep Stage production and is the only gay actor in the five-man cast.

"How could I be a part of this culture for so long and not know about these major people who helped move us toward gaining our rights? I feel I have educated myself a bit more through this play," Hammerly said. "And I hope it will help people understand how long this struggle has been going on, how important it is to make everyone equal."


If you go

"The Temperamentals": Runs through Sept. 16 at Rep Stage, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Call 443-518-1500, or go to repstage.org.

"Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?": Runs Sept.19 to Oct. 21 at Single Carrot Theatre, 120 W. North Ave. Call 443-844-9253, or go to singlecarrot.com.

"Breaking the Code": Runs Sept. 28 to Oct. 28 at Performance Workshop Theatre, 5426 Harford Road. Call 410-659-7830, or go to performanceworkshoptheatre.org.

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