Steve Casillas, Desmond Gray, Layne Manzer, and Daniel Desmarais
Steve Casillas, Desmond Gray, Layne Manzer, and Daniel Desmarais Credit: Ryan Bourque

Hit the Wall wowed Chicago audiences two years ago, when it debuted in a production staged by the Inconvenience as part of Steppenwolf Theatre’s annual Garage Rep. (“Fiery,” “funny,” and “visceral” were some of my adjectives.) From there it went to New York’s Barrow Street Theatre—but closed earlier than expected, reportedly due to “soft” ticket sales. Well, thank god and Judy Garland the Barrow Street experience didn’t scare off the Chicago Commercial Collective. Created to give new, legit legs to well-received off-Loop shows, the CCC has partnered with the Inconvenience to remount the play. And it’s easily as fiery, funny, and visceral as it was the first time around. Maybe even more so.

The title refers to the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village gay bar where in the wee hours of Saturday, June 28, 1969, a routine police raid went historically haywire. Rather than scamper off as usual to avoid being arrested or, worse yet, publicly outed, some patrons (emboldened, it’s said, by grief over the funeral of gay patron saint Judy Garland the day before) made a stand. Their resistance turned into a pitched battle, and the battle became a watershed moment in gay consciousness. It may be an oversimplification to claim that the gay pride movement began at the Stonewall, but something galvanic sure as hell happened there.

Stylized, fictionalized, but essentially faithful to published accounts, Ike Holter‘s script establishes a small community of misfits and predators—from Tano and Mika, the fey Statler and Waldorf of Christopher Street, to an overheated cop waiting for his chance to strike—all of whom are transformed by the night. Speaking of galvanism, Manny Buckley is back, playing magnificent black transvestite Carson; and so, among others, are Shannon Matesky as motormouth organizer Roberta, Layne Manzer as the chilling alpha wolf known as A-Gay, and Daniel Desmarais as Newbie, the Baby John of this (lower) west-side story. One marvelous new arrival is Sara Kerastas, by turns vulnerable and immovable as a young butch dyke called Peg. The extended riot sequence, which formed an unforgettable set piece in the first version directed by Eric Hoff, is sharper and more awful-beautiful than before.