Hit the Wall
I was living in an apartment in lower Manhattan when the events dramatized in Ike Holter’s play Hit the Wall took place. On the morning of June 28, 1969, I woke up and was unaware of what had happened overnight a short walk away.
During his second inaugural speech in January, President Obama referred to those events when he said, “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall ...” The Stonewall Inn was the name of a bar facing Greenwich Village’s Sheridan Square, and what happened there was that, after years of simply accepting harassment and arrest by police, the gay patrons of that bar resisted, and resisted violently. This event is commonly cited as the beginning of the gay community’s fight to assert their rights, a fight which now has brought us to widespread public support for gay marriage and the voiding of laws that previously targeted homosexuals. There are still some who think they can make political hay out of campaigning against homosexuality, but it has become increasingly evident that they are on the losing side of history.
Hit the Wall is not a documentary. The characters are fictional and many of the specifics of the plot are pure speculation. But the best aspects of Holter’s play show something of the spirit of street life in the Village in those days and why the bickering and game-playing depicted in the flamboyant early scenes were cast aside for a new unity when the patrons of that bar decided they were no longer going to submit to the usual contemptuous and abusive treatment.
Holter has a way with raucous language, particularly evident in spectacular competitive insult matches, but as a piece of dramatic writing, Hit the Wall is hobbled by an episodic structure and some scenes that belabor the obvious. But, with the aid of director Eric Hoff and a large, committed cast, he’s put vivid life on the stage, which strikes me as accomplishment enough.
I found it moving to leave the Barrow Street Theatre, head north toward the Sheridan Square subway stop and see the real doorway of the Stonewall Inn nearby, having just seen its replica on the evocative set by Lauren Helpern. In 1969, I was too wrapped up in my own young concerns to be aware of the struggle that had just begun so near to me. Though I had returned to the neighborhood to see the show, I felt a world away.