This review of Mart Crowley's The Boys In The Band at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
The Boys In The Band
Written by Mart Crowley
Directed by David Dubin
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York
Reviewed 7/17/15 at 8:00 p.m.
The Boys In The Band opened off-Broadway on April 14, 1968 at Theatre Four where it ran for more than 1,000 performances. A feature film of the same name was released by Cinema Center Films in 1970. The play had a brief revival at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Greenwich Village, opening on August 6, 1996 and closing on October 20, 1996, and, in 2010, the Transport Group Theatre Company converted a 12th Floor Penthouse at 37 West 26th Street in Manhattan (with a view of the Empire State Building) into a 99-seat theater for another revival of the play that ran from February 12, 2010 to March 28, 2010. The Boys In The Band has been said to be the first play that showed "uncloseted gay men in their natural habitat" while "celebrating the humanity of every nelly, self-flagellating gay stereotype" that exists. While that is a bit harsh, it is also somewhat accurate.
The play is set in an apartment in New York City in 1968 where Michael is hosting a birthday party for his friend Harold, who is turning 42 in this production. He invites Donald, Emory, Bernard, Hank and Larry but Emory also brings Cowboy as a present for Harold, and Alan, Michael's straight friend from college, also shows up unexpectedly with something he claims he needs to get off his chest. During the exceedingly depressive and non-festive party, we learn more about the backgrounds of each of the characters. After he falls off the wagon and starts to drink again, Michael, the host, turns increasingly nasty pushing the party guests to play a game where each calls someone they once loved on the telephone and reveals that secret to him. The vicious and ill-spirited game was concocted by Michael to try to get his friend Alan to admit he is gay and loved Justin, an old college friend he was very close to, but the plan backfires and Alan calls his wife instead reconciling with her after experiencing the collection of freaks, misfits, and dysfunctional individuals he has met at the party. Ironically, after causing all this trouble, Michael heads out to midnight mass at St. Malachy's leaving Donald on the sofa reading a book by Franz Kafka suggesting the story we just saw was Kafkaesque in nature (i.e. senseless, bizarre, disorienting, and nightmarishly complex).
David Dubin, the director, wrote in a note in the program, that "the rationale for producing this play at our theatre at this time is to show by contrast how far our society has evolved." To drive home the point, Mr. Dubin opens this production with a television newscast reporting the Supreme Court's decision legalizing gay marriage throughout the country followed by a flashback to demonstrations fighting for more funding for A.I.D.S. and more police involvement in stopping hate crimes against the homosexual community. However, this play, far from being outdated, is as relevant today as it was when it opened in 1968. If anything, with the advent of A.I.D.S. and the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, having gay sex has become more risky and problematic than it was back in the day. Sure, the days of wearing a butterfly and asking someone if they were "a friend of Dorothy" are mostly over, but now everyone has their "type" and given the smaller pool of those inclined to engage in same gender sexual encounters, many gay men and lesbians are as lonely as ever and the "hook-ups" that do still occur are almost exclusively about engaging in sex, except now with more specificity and likes and dislikes than ever, promoted and reinforced by the easy accessibility of pornography on the internet.
It is easy to recognize the characters in this play, no matter what time period it is set in. Larry is a fashion designer who prefers multiple sex partners and previously slept with Donald, who is undergoing psychoanalysis and has moved out of the city to get away from the homosexual "lifestyle." Hank is Larry's live-in boyfriend, an athletic former basketball player who is separated from his wife, passes as straight, and would like to be in a monogamous, and not an open, relationship with Larry. Bernard is an African-American, who still pines for the wealthy white boy who lived in the house where his mother once worked as a maid. Bernard's friend, Emory, is flamboyant and effeminate (he says he "still hasn't finished reading Atlas Shrugged, which he began back in 1912"). Cowboy is an attractive, young, not-too-bright hustler everyone makes fun of and expects to keep quiet (someone actually asked him "to wait over there with the rest of the presents"). Harold, the birthday boy, is an aging "pock-marked, Jew fairy" by his own description who takes pills ("Give me Librium or Give me Meth"), smokes marijuana, and is always on the verge of committing suicide. Michael, the host and Harold's frenemy, is a recovering Roman Catholic alcoholic, who still feels guilt about being a homosexual, and is a nasty drunk. Alan, Michael's friend, is an upright, married, self-identified straight man who will fool around with other straight-acting men so long as the sex is viewed as simply "giving each other a helping hand" as opposed to being homosexual in nature. After all, it is one thing to experiment and quite another to self-identify or be identified as a faggot.
This production of The Boys In The Band features a very talented ensemble cast. The four standouts are Michael Harrison Carlin (Harold), Robbie Dema (Cowboy), Ryan Nolin (Emory), and Joe Marshall (Michael). I should mention that Michael Harrison Carlin is a member of the Beaux Arts Society, Inc., a prestigious group of artists founded in 1857. His talent was quite evident in this show. Robbie Dema, making his professional acting debut in this production, is a very charismatic actor with a strong stage presence. I look forward to seeing more of his work. Ryan Nolin acts as if he were born to play the part of Emory. I was very moved when, even after having been beaten on by Alan, he was still concerned about getting him a plate of food. Joe Marshall, the Founder, President and Artistic Director for the Alternative Theatre Company based in New York, portrayed Michael as a positively hateful and self-hating individual. Fine performances were also delivered by Angelo DiBiase (Alan), Eugene Gamblin (Hank), George Ghossn (Larry), and Jeff Greene (Donald).
I highly recommend you go see this production of The Boys In The Band. Far from finding it a relic from another era, you will find the material fresh and relevant, and the characters familiar and true-to-life. Sure, nothing much of note happens at the party, and there aren't many funny lines but you will get some insight into the motivations and thoughts of the various characters attending the party. You will be reminded, straight or gay or somewhere in-between, that sometimes the meaning you placed on a sexual encounter with another individual, is not viewed with the same meaning or intensity as you perceived it. You will understand why some people need to get drunk in order to engage in "the love that dares not speak its name" and then claim they can't remember a thing about what happened the night before. After all, if you don't talk about it, it never happened!
The Boys In The Band plays at Studio Theatre Long Island through July 26, 2015. Tickets are $25.00. For more information, call 631-226-8400 or visit: https://www.studiotheatreli.com/