‘The Boys in the Band’ recalls a less gay-friendly but essential era.
by Donalevan Maines
Photo by David Yannone/White Moth Productions
In Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band, at Country Playhouse for two weekends this month, audiences might be confused when party host Michael says, “It’s not always like it happens in plays. Not all faggots bump themselves off at the end of the story.”
What plays is he talking about? The Children’s Hour?
Michael’s other signature line—“You show me a happy homosexual, and I’ll show you a gay corpse”—will addle others.
The thing to remember is that The Boys in the Band was written and first staged pre-Stonewall and gay liberation, says
director Stuart Purdy. It’s the product of
a time when American society was super-successful at demeaning gays and lesbians. Self-deprecating humor was an offshoot of low self-esteem.
“The Boys in the Band offered a view of the subculture at a time when it was highly repressed and could only unfold in private,” explains Purdy. “The play is funny. There is a lot of humor, although it is not a
The Boys in the Band premiered off-Broadway forty-five years ago. The ensemble cast of the New York run recreated their roles in the 1970 film version directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection). Standouts in the cast were Cliff Gorman as Emory and Leonard Frey, who was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor as Motel the tailor in the movie Fiddler on the Roof.
“The play is much more intense than the movie, and is a more rewarding experience,” he adds. “The movie breaks it up too much. You miss the flow, the pacing of the story. The play is much more dramatic and compelling. It takes a very dark turn in the second act. When it’s all over, you’re exhausted.”
At Country Playhouse, Jake Bevill, Louis Crespo, Bob Galley, Tad Howington, Jay Menchaca, Adam Richardson, Travis Springfield, Jarred Tettey, and L. Robert Westeen portray men who gather at an upscale apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for a birthday party that Michael throws for Harold. Among Harold’s “gifts” is Cowboy, a dim-witted hustler. Among the surprises is a drop-in from Michael’s former college roommate, who may or may not be in the closet.
“The constant joking back and forth becomes more vicious, the more alcohol they consume,” explains Purdy. “Michael invents a game of Truth. The object is to call the one person you’ve always been in love with but you’ve never told them.” The game has “bitter consequences,” teases Purdy.
He adds that The Boys in the Band met with a bit of a backlash in later years for its self-disparaging depiction of the gay milieu, but has now come to be viewed as a breakthrough in pre-AIDS social drama. In 2002, says Purdy, Crowley wrote a sequel to it, The Men from the Boys.
What: The Boys in the Band
When: January 11–20, weekends only
Where: Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury
Tickets/info: $22 adults, $19 students/seniors • countryplayhouse.org or 713/467-4497
Donalevan Maines also writes about Tye Blue in this issue of OutSmart magazine.