In many ways, it's easier than ever to be gay in America. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy has shown mainstream audiences that homosexuals can be cool, creative, and kind. Brokeback Mountain has shown that they can love and be loved, and that good wives and family ties don't "straighten out" the situation. Though there is, and probably always will be, opposition to the lifestyle, it is no longer a social (or literal) death sentence to admit your sexual orientation in most parts of the country. But what if we as a country started going backward instead of forward? What if the LGBT community were treated no better than child molesters, or worse? And what if this treatment was authorized, and, indeed, authored, by our own government? This scenario is played out in Temple, a chilling though oblique piece by Tim Aumiller.
The show opens with the appearance of Russ (think a blue-collar Sean Astin with a longshoreman's vocabulary) as he storms into an abandoned room with boxes and a covered couch and yells at nothing in particular. He's soon joined by Walt (a bespectacled meek type), who's brought his older sister Brenda (a mentally challenged religious type) to meet up with an old friend.
This friend, John, has masterminded a plot to take down the U.S. Supreme Court as well as a computerized database (housed within the court building) that tracks homosexuals in America in compliance with the newly passed "Samuel Laws." Walt, who provided schematics of the target, and Russ, who is also in on the attack, are there for a post-mission rendezvous with John to find out the next part of the plan.
John, their charismatic and handsome leader, eventually arrives with most of the rest of the gang: the twitchy, straight Kent; the unconscious Remy, wounded in the attack; and the tough-talking Suzanne. (The other two in their party have gone missing.) Everyone but Kent, a hired gun, is gay and committed, to varying degrees and for varying reasons, to the cause and to John. As they wait for a phone call that will provide a pickup location, personalities clash and much speechmaking ensues—speeches that clarify the stratagem that occurred as well as the reasons for its genesis.
Sadly, the more we learn about these revolutionaries, the less we care about them. Sure, their plight is terrible: when the authorities learn that someone "plays for the other team," he or she is forced to "register" and made to go through counseling and treatments. The person's parents are sterilized and tested as well.
But the play's characters categorize all heterosexuals and practitioners of organized religion as evil and believe that the loss of life, as long as it's not their own, is just part of their work. They spend most of the evening whining and fighting and being consoled by John, who talks about their cause with a persuasive fervor but ultimately comes off as a selfish manipulator.
The actors put forth believable characterizations, and David Rudd, as John, certainly has the magnetism to make it understandable why all of these men can't seem to quit him. Greg Foro's direction keeps the actors moving and the atmospheric tension alive. Yet the audience needs to have a likable protagonist in order to become emotionally invested in the events, however horrifying, and especially if they're fantastic.
There have been complaints over the last ten years that while gays and lesbians are finally starting to appear in films and TV series, they are often emotionally and sexually neutered. Yet their mere presence has opened the door for more complex portrayals in Queer as Folk and The L Word. Those shows offer characters who are defined not just by whom they sleep with but by who they are; the audience in turn identifies with them. The gang in Temple define themselves solely on the basis of their sexual identity, and while audiences may pity them for their situation, they'll be hard pressed to find any reason to like them.