The Trouble With Harry

Gay playwright Jon Marans tackles the Mattachine Society -- with the help of Ugly Betty star Michael Urie -- in his new play, The Temperamentals.

BY Robert Hilferty

May 01 2009 12:00 AM ET

Before Stonewall and
Harvey Milk there was Harry Hay. Pulitzer-nominated gay
playwright Jon Marans resurrects this fascinating figure and
his daring cohorts in
The Temperamentals,

which opens May 4 at the Barrow Group Studio Theatre in
Manhattan. Hay was the brilliant, difficult guy who, with his
lover Rudi Gernreich and a few others, in 1950 started the
Mattachine Society, a seminal homosexual activist organization
that conceived of gays as a cultural minority. Thomas Jay Ryan
and Michael Urie of
Ugly Betty

fame play the dynamic duo of Hay and Gernreich,
respectively. cornered
Marans in a Chelsea café to get the lowdown. does the title of your play come from?Jon Marans:

Back in the early '50s where the play takes place, there were a
lot of code words for guys who were homosexual: "the nervous
ones," "that way," and "temperamental" -- all

wasn't even a word back then, but that's how gay guys saw

How did you hit upon the character of Harry Hay?

I was hired by San Jose Rep to write the book for a musical
Coming of Age

based on Studs Terkel's book of the same name, which is a
series of interviews from activists and anarchists over age 70,
placed in different categories. And there was one category
called "The Others" that featured a guy named Harry Hay,
whom I hadn't heard of. But I put him in the show because he
had such a specific point of view, and every time he appeared,
he stole it. Then I continued to do research, and this play is
the outcome.

Well, who was he?

He was an obnoxious, aggressive human being who had this great
idea that gays were a minority, which was novel and
revolutionary at the time. But because of his off-putting
personality he needed help to get this idea across. That's
where Rudi Gernreich comes in. He was a Viennese Jewish guy who
had gotten out of Vienna in 1938 right after the Anschluss.
Most of his family killed in Auschwitz. Rudi was wildly
charming, a costume designer who worked with Edith Head, so he
was connected to the Hollywood crowd. Everyone adored him.

Tags: Theater