Woodstock isn’t the only
anniversary being celebrated this year; the summer of 1969 was also marked by
the Stonewall Riots, an event seen by many as the birth of gay liberation.   That uprising ignores years of work by
a lot of brave forward-thinking folk whose activism, while discreet, embodied
the age-old frustrations of men and women living under threat from the law and
society simply because they preferred their own sex.


A new play, The
code name for homosexual in the early 1950s), explores the efforts of a small
group of gay men who, fed up with indignities inflicted by society and the
police (like blackmail and especially entrapment, which seems to be making a
comeback) founded the Mattachine Society in 1951.  Led by Harry Hay, a school teacher who blossoms into a
modern-day Larry Kramer, they struggle to build what was arguably the first
post-war gay rights organization in the U.S (the short-lived Society for Human
Rights dates to 1924).

The playwright Jon Marans has given us a docudrama
that is frank without stinting on the humor, or the ripe parallels to what
passes for gay activism today.  The
personal tragedies, the in-fighting, the legal injustices and triumphs, the
obstacles (often by other homosexuals)—all are there, heightened by the elegant
direction of Jonathan Silverstein and a quintet of performances too good to be
true: Thomas Jay Ryan (as Harry Hay), Michael Urie, Tom Beckett, Matthew
Schneck and Sam Breslin Wright are all masterful.

But time is running out—The
, after numerous extensions,
is closing August 23rd. 
Let’s hope some enterprising film producer buys the rights, for the
story of Mattachine is one that deserves the ears of a larger audience.

is at the Barrow Group Theatre, 312 West 36th
Street, 3rd Floor.  Photo of Michael Urie and Thomas Jay Ryan by Joan Marcus.