*The Boys in the Band,* 6/5/18
I saw *The Boys in the Band* on 6/5/18. It's a play by Mart Crowley - - this was the Broadway premiere, it was first done off Broadway 50 years ago. It's about a group of eight friends getting together to celebrate the birthday of one of them. The thing that's remarkable, especially considering this was a full year before Stonewall, is that all eight men are gay.
I saw the 1970 movie years ago, I might have been in my early 20s. It starred the entire original off Broadway cast and was directed by William "The Exorcist" Friedkin. I remember thinking the movie was very interesting but not particularly great. I was very intrigued to see the Broadway production, especially because it was being directed by the brilliant Joe Mantello.
I was a little amazed by the strength of the play itself. It's very well constructed - - exciting and thought-provoking, and a little surprising. It's smart that Crowley starts with a warm and funny tone and gradually turns the dial over to cruel and tense. The play clearly owes a big debt to *Who's Afraid of Virgnia Woolf?*, not just in the heavy drinking but most pointedly in the use of playing games as a way of destroying people.
The play opens with the host of the party, Michael (played by Jim Parsons), getting the place together. His pseudo boyfriend, Donald (played by Matt Bomer), shows up before too long. My favorite line in the show was early on: the phone rang, Michael went downstairs, picked up the phone, and said, "Backstage, *Funny Girl.*" I am STILL laughing. Donald took a shower, and there were many quiet moments in the show, but maybe none as quiet as when Bomer was taking off his clothes.
Parsons did a fantastic job, he had the stamina and the depth to put the role over. Plus he had that essential ineffable ability to make us care about his character even when he was being a complete sadist. It might be all those hours seeing him on *The Big Bang Theory.* This was Bomer's Broadway debut, and he was wonderful. It's not much of a part, but he was a valuable member of the ensemble.
Zachary Quinto had maybe the best part in the play, Harold, the birthday boy. My friend Nick thought he was channeling Bea Arthur in his performance, and I can see that, but I liked his staginess/phoniness, it was a nice contrast to the (comparative) naturalism of the rest of the cast. It's not often that an actor gets to stop the show in a play, but he did a number of times, especially with his exit line. Michael says, "Let's do this again real soon." And Harold says, "Yeah, how about a year from Shavuot?" I'm sure I didn't know what Shavuot was when I saw the movie thirty years ago, and I'm still not completely sure what it is - - but it's still a hilarious line.
Andrew Rannells and Tuc Watkins were great as Larry and Hank, the only real couple in the show. Crowley does a great job of showing their struggle to be with the other while staying true to themselves, and Rannells and Watkins had the intimacy and chemistry to make us want them to stay together. One more performance I want to mention: Robin de Jesus played Emory, the nelliest of the characters. He was simply divine.
The play is what I call a "frozen in amber" piece - - a historical document, a cultural artifact. It's a priceless snapshot of this particular corner of gay culture in 1968, not just before Stonewall but before AIDS, *Will and Grace,* marriage equality, any of that.
It must be extraordinary for Crowley to see this play on Broadway, with its stepchild, *Angels in America,* playing down the street. *Boys* and *Angels* are like Haydn and Mozart - - the pioneer on the prairie and the cactus in full flower. We also have a special poignancy in this production because all nine actors in the show (I know I said eight earlier, but there's one uninvited guest) are out gay men. I think it was in the NY Times where I read that this is the first generation of out gay actors, men who never had to come out because they were never in the closet. Another thing that Crowley might not have anticipated 50 years ago.
The play was full of fantastic pop music. It opened with Parsons having a soulful moment listening to Aretha Franklin's "I Say a Little Prayer For You." The song that most thrilled me was played before the show - - Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 doing "Bim Bom." I couldn't restrain myself from quietly singing along.