It’s funny when we think of civil rights (in this country) we tend to look towards a few key movements. We think of the Freedom Riders, the march on Washington, the suffragette movement, and that’s it. Civil rights are necessary for all people, but we forget that all people have fought for them. Hit the Wall works to remind and educate its audience on the fight for civil rights in the LGBTQIA+ community because they know we’ll forget otherwise.
Ike Holter’s Hit the Wall is a retelling of the historic Stonewall riots. The show is technically a piece of historical fiction or “remix” as they call it. Following the lives of 10 strangers living in Greenwich Village, we see the day that would later be identified as the Stonewall Riots, arguably one of the largest moments in LGBTQIA+ history.
Hit the Wall is big. I say that as both a compliment and a warning. There are moments when the ensemble cast creates something big and dynamic, and oh so dramatic that you want to clap your hands for more. And there are times when the actions on stage drag you down to this dark place with the realization that the world is cruel and unfair in a big way. You painfully learn, or are reminded of, the little compromises need to be young, gay, and in New York at the time. This is a sign of Holter’s writing chops. Moments don’t jump back and forth in dramatized whiplash, they escalate methodically in the carefully crafted plot. The plot that never really dulls so much as it pivots.
There are no character arcs, not really. Instead, you see various people live as they ordinarily would on what is, initially, the day of Judy Garland’s funeral; the show pivots and turns from storyline to storyline in order to reveal a beautiful body of work. The only downside of the multiple storylines is the mismanaged quality of them. Some lines are yelled instead of emoted and a few arguments feel stifled in their overacting. The mixed quality of the work makes for a bumpy ride. Thankfully things smooth out near the end of the show.
What stays consistent throughout the show is the dedicated performance of Ricky Morisseau and snem DeSellier’s amazing lighting design. Morisseau’s performance is both aware of itself and present. They take the role of Carson, a transwoman with a budding romance, to places we love to see and dare not imagine. In them, we see the work every transwoman must do to stay alive in this society--the baby steps they must take to do everything from holding hands to mourning. Morisseau even allows us to witness the violence of being misgendered as their character is forcibly undressed by a police officer. It is a painful experience that one can only hope to see in fiction. This hurt of watching someone so passionate and free being dragged down is the greatest sign of Morisseau’s depth and range.
snem DeSellier, the lighting designer, was tasked with a difficult job: light the Southern Theater. The Southern is so big and cavernous that lighting it well takes so much. What makes the work even harder was the number of settings available on stage. Thanks to props and staging, three or four areas were different settings altogether--a stoop on the street, a bar, and a record store that in reality should be separated by blocks were only a few feet away from each other on stage. Creating space like this is a challenge but with agile work from DeSellier we see happen with ease.
Hit the Wall is a show the will repeatedly tell you that people were there when the Stonewall Riots started. You’ll see the collective humanity that started something that hasn’t stopped to this day. A show like this isn’t meant to empower or enlighten, it’s meant to ensure we never forget where we started. That when we march, vote, and rally it is because we never want the hurt we see on stage to occur ever again. If ever you want a reminder as to why you fight the good fight, I strongly suggest you see this show.