The Boys in the Band (2018)
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May 31, 2018
In the advance–publicity photo for The Boys in the Band, the actors rise out from a mass of black turtlenecks like the nine well-coiffed heads of a single dark hydra. There is monstrousness at the base of Mart Crowley’s 1968 depiction of a disastrous birthday party attended by eight gay men and crashed by a ninth of questionable Kinsey status; in its groundbreaking original Off Broadway run, the play inspired a backlash among activists who felt it presented gay life in too unflattering a light. But the root of the characters’ unhappiness is not homosexuality, but homophobia refracted into self-destruction. As one character wishes at the end of the play: “If we could just…learn not hate ourselves so much.”
To some degree, at least, we seem to have learned. The keen-edged and engrossing 50th-anniversary revival of The Boys in the Band—which is also the play’s Broadway debut—is the creation of five openly gay producers, an openly gay director (the redoubtable Joe Mantello) and nine openly gay actors. No one seems worried about being role models; they focus on their roles, and on Crowley’s favorful dialogue, whose basic bitterness is frequently cut with acid.READ THE REVIEW
May 31, 2018
Fifty years after Mart Crowley’s landmark comic drama about a group of gay men in pre-Stonewall New York first made waves, director Joe Mantello vigorously shakes the dust off The Boys in the Band. What might have been another bulletin from the distant queer past is transformed into a scintillating portrait of the self-loathing that festers in ghettoized subcultures, perhaps as much now as then. Starring a high-caliber cast of out gay actors led by Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer and Andrew Rannells, the production is sharpest when the zingers are flying back and forth like missiles, but the anger coursing through the play’s veins still scalds. With its stream of caustic one-liners, its increasingly antagonistic behavior fueled by liquor, and its malicious party game designed to make the guests squirm, Crowley’s entertaining play owes a debt to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? But that’s not to undermine its originality or importance among canonical LGBT theatrical works. Premiered off-Broadway in 1968, The Boys in the Band represented a breakthrough in its candid depiction of the lives of gay men, making inroads into mainstream cultural consciousness that many credit with helping to shift attitudes as the gay rights movement was gathering steam. Queer pundits over the decades have had ambivalent attitudes toward the play — and to William Friedkin’s faithful 1970 screen version, whch featured the original stage cast. As shame made way for pride, it was viewed as an uncomfortable anachronism, perpetuating the negative stereotype of the bitchy, self-hating, maudlin gay victim. In the 1980s, the gay community’s anguished response to the AIDS crisis made the insularity and narcissism of Crowley’s characters seem trivial. But in the post-equality era, the play stands as a compelling portrayal of internecine savagery bred by the stigma of isolation and oppression, by turns bitingly funny and moving.READ THE REVIEW
May 31, 2018
Holy social anthropology! What is this strange and barbaric tribal ceremony that our unsuspecting traveler has stumbled upon? Men are actually dancing with — gasp — other men, in a wrist-flicking, hip-wriggling, keister-twitching chorus line.
Perhaps they’re enacting some unspeakable mating ritual, the kind an adventurous American couple of the mid-1960s might have seen (and recoiled from) while watching a lurid documentary like “Mondo Cane.” But this is definitely not the sort of activity Joe Average expects to encounter in the apartment of his best friend from college.
That, more or less, is the point of view of a lone, presumably heterosexual man when he arrives as an uninvited guest at the all-gay party of hedonism and hatred that is Mart Crowley’s epochal 1968 drama “The Boys in the Band,” which opened on Thursday night in a starry but disconnected revival at the Booth Theater. And theatergoers, too, may feel an awakening shock at this moment.READ THE REVIEW
May 31, 2018
1968 was a momentous year for so many reasons. But one event that escapes most historical retrospectives was the premiere of what’s largely considered the first play about gay men in America. “The Boys In The Band,” written when homosexuality was criminal in some parts and long before AIDS, arrives on Broadway for the very first time in a powerful production. The play is Mart Crowley’s unapologetically honest portrayal of a group of gay friends celebrating a birthday party in Manhattan. It’s pocked with pointedly self-mocking humor spanning an arc that starts like a sitcom and ends like a Greek tragedy. Set in a single night, the characters exhibit stereotypical traits – the self-loathing, the promiscuity, the biting sarcasm. The plotting can seem forced as the central conflict involves the arrival of a bigoted straight character who may or may not be gay himself. But it’s so well directed and performed, any dramatic flaws are easily overlooked. Under Joe Mantello’s gripping direction, the production, trimmed to two intermissionless hours, has shades of Albee’s “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf.”READ THE REVIEW
May 31, 2018
Festivities are certainly in order for this superbly mounted 50th anniversary production of “The Boys in the Band,” Mart Crowley’s breakthrough 1968 play about Manhattan gay life — still largely underground in an era that preceded both Stonewall and AIDS. Not that everyone in the play seems up for a party. “If there’s one thing I’m not ready for, it’s five screaming queens singing ‘Happy Birthday,’” declares Michael, in Jim Parsons’ endearing performance as the heart and soul of the play’s rambunctious birthday gathering. Well, we beg to disagree. If there’s one thing this staid theater season is more than ready for, it’s a motley crew of gay friends getting together to celebrate. Harold, the insouciant birthday boy, takes his sweet time arriving at the festivities; but in this staging — directed by Joe Mantello and produced by a team that includes TV titan Ryan Murphy — the character is played with such withering wit by Zachary Quinto that the wait is entirely worth it.READ THE REVIEW