The Boys in the Band (play)
|The Boys in the Band|
One of early theatrical release posters
|Written by||Mart Crowley|
|Date premiered||April 14, 1968|
New York City
The Boys in the Band is a play by Mart Crowley. The play premiered Off-Broadway in 1968, and was revived on Broadway for its 50th anniversary in 2018. The play revolves around a group of gay men who gather for a birthday party in New York City and was groundbreaking for its portrayal of gay life. The play has been called "A true theatrical game-changer, The Boys in the Band helped spark a revolution by putting gay men's lives onstage — unapologetically and without judgment — in a world that was not yet willing to fully accept them."
- Harold celebrates his birthday. He becomes increasingly morose about losing his youthful looks and claims that he no longer can attract cute young men.
- "Cowboy", an attractive blond prostitute who is "not too bright", is one of Harold's birthday presents.
- Alan McCarthy is an unexpected party guest. Michael's married college friend, he is visiting New York and anxious to tell Michael something but hesitant to do so in front of the others. It is suggested that he once had homosexual affairs while in college, but his sexual orientation is never explicitly stated, leaving it to audience interpretation.
The party is given by Harold's six closest friends:
- Michael is Harold's "friend-enemy", the host, and a lapsed Catholic as well as an alcoholic. He is the catalyst for most of the drama of the play.
- Donald is Michael's conflicted boyfriend who has moved from the city to the Hamptons to spurn the homosexual "lifestyle", and is undergoing psychoanalysis.
- Bernard is an African-American, who still pines for the wealthy white boy in whose house his mother worked as a maid.
- Emory is a flamboyant and effeminate interior decorator. He is often campy in his sense of humor, which serves to irritate others.
- Larry, a fashion photographer who prefers multiple sex partners.
- Hank, Larry's live-in boyfriend who has been married to a woman from whom he is separated and is divorcing. He "passes" as straight and disagrees with Larry on the issue of monogamy.
During the party, the humor takes a nasty turn, as the nine men become increasingly inebriated. The party culminates in a "game", where each man must call someone who he has loved and tell them about it. Michael, believing that Alan has finally "outed" himself when he makes his call, grabs the phone from him and discovers Alan has called his wife. The audience never learns what Alan intended to discuss with Michael in the end.
Title and creation
The Boys in the Band was written entirely by American playwright Mart Crowley. In 1957 Crowley had started working for a number of television production companies, before meeting Natalie Wood on the set of her film Splendor in the Grass while working as a production assistant. Wood hired him as her assistant, primarily to give him ample free time to work on his gay-themed play The Boys in the Band. Wood, Crowley's close friend, inspired him to move from New York to Hollywood. According to Crowley's friend Gavin Lambert, Wood sympathized with Hollywood's gay scene, and financially supported Crowley so he would be free to write his play. Crowley worked as an assistant for Wood and her husband Robert Wagner for many years.
After several Hollywood film productions he was helping on were canceled, his wealthy friend Diana Lynn hired him to housesit. He lived in the Hollywood Georgian Mansion where he only had to "throw dinner parties and drink myself into oblivion." He began writing instead of drinking, and began working on The Boys in the Band. According to Crowley, he had a droll friend he periodically would take wry comments from, and based the character of Michael on.
According to Crowley, his motivation in writing the play was not activism, but anger that "had partially to do with myself and my career, but it also had to do with the social attitude of people around me, and the laws of the day." He says he "wanted the injustice of it all — to all those characters — known." Crowley has also stated, "I was not an activist, then or now. I didn't know what hit me. I just wrote the truth."
Crowley reminded himself of Michael, describing him as "a complex person who is aware of what is politically correct but has a sort of contempt for it." He called Donald "a foil for Michael" and inspired by Crowley's friend. In the 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet, Crowley explained, "The self-deprecating humor was born out of a low self-esteem, from a sense of what the times told you about yourself."
While Crowley was pitching the script, early agents stayed away from the project, and it was championed by playwright Edward Albee and Richard Barr, who at the time was head of the Playwrights Units in New York. For the production, it proved "nearly impossible to find" actors willing to play gay characters. An old college friend of Crowley's, 33-year-old Laurence Luckinbill, agreed to play Hank despite warnings from his agent that it would end his career, even though the agent was herself a lesbian. It was proved hard for Crowley find producers and theater owners who were interested.
The play premiered Off-Broadway on April 14, 1968, at Theater Four, and closed on September 6, 1970, after 1,001 performances. Directed by Robert Moore, the cast included Kenneth Nelson as Michael, Peter White as Alan McCarthy, Leonard Frey as Harold, Cliff Gorman as Emory, Frederick Combs as Donald, Laurence Luckinbill as Hank, Keith Prentice as Larry, Robert La Tourneaux as Cowboy, and Reuben Greene as Bernard. The play was one of the first works to present a story centered on homosexuals. In 1968, although only originally scheduled to run for five performances at a small venue off Broadway, it was a fast success and was moved to a larger theater. It went on to have a run in London as well. According to the New York Times, the premier's actors such as Laurence Luckinbill drilled a hole in the set so they could spy on whoever was in the house's best seats, and in the initial weeks, saw Jackie Kennedy, Marlene Dietrich, Groucho Marx and Rudolf Nureyev, and New York mayor John Lindsay. Despite the success of the play, all the gay members of the original company stayed in the closet after the premiere. Between 1984 and 1993, five of the gay men in the original production (as well as director Robert Moore and producer Richard Barr) died in the ensuing AIDS epidemic.
The play was revived Off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in 1996, running from August 6 to October 20.
In 2002, Crowley wrote The Men from the Boys, a sequel to the play, which takes place 30 years after the original. The Men from the Boys premiered in San Francisco in 2002, directed by Ed Decker, and was produced in Los Angeles in 2003.
A Broadway production of The Boys in the Band, directed by Joe Mantello, opened in previews at the Booth Theatre on April 30, 2018, officially on May 31, and ran until August 11. This production, staged for the 50th anniversary of the play's original premiere, starred Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto and Andrew Rannells, as well as Charlie Carver, Brian Hutchison, Michael Benjamin Washington, Robin de Jesús, and Tuc Watkins. Quinto portrayed Harold, whose birthday sets the premise. All of the actors who were in the 2018 production are openly gay.
Reception and impact
When The Boys in the Band premiered in 1968, mainstream audiences were shocked. The play was profiled in the William Goldman book The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway, an account of the 1967-68 season. In the same year, a two-disc, vinyl LP set was released, containing the full dialogue of the play voiced by the original actors. Crowley wrote the sequel The Men from the Boys.
After gays saw The Boys in the Band, they no longer would settle for thinking of themselves as pathetic and wouldn't be perceived as such any longer. Now that [characters] had brought their feelings out of the closet, this new generation would dare to be different. And, just as some whites' view of blacks changed after seeing A Raisin in the Sun, so too did the outlook of many straights after they caught The Boys in the Band. Some whom I personally know felt terrible and–I saw this happen!–actually changed the way they treated gays.
In 2004, David Anthony Fox from Philadelphia City Paper praised this play, its one-liners, and its live performance in Philadelphia. He rebutted criticism that the play portrayed "urban gay men as narcissistic, bitter, shallow".
In 2010, Elyse Summer in her review for CurtainUp called it a "smart gimmick" full of dated "self-homophobic, low self-esteem characters". In the same year, Steve Weinstein from the Edge website called it "Shakespearean".
- Cliff Gorman (as Emory) won the 1968 Obie Award, Distinguished Performance
- David Greenspan (as Harold) won the 1997 Obie Award, Performance.
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