As the old adage goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Take Mart Crowley’s groundbreaking 1968 play, “The Boys in the Band,” as an example.
Set at a birthday party in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the festivities take a nasty and revealing turn as a group of friends become increasingly inebriated as the evening progresses.
The men are gay archetypes, familiar today: Michael, the host, an alcoholic and lapsed Catholic; Donald, Michael’s ex, who has spurned the gay lifestyle, left the city and seeking therapy; Hank, the former family man, who now plays house with his lover Larry, a photographer with a wandering eye; Emory, the flamboyant interior decorator; Bernard, the African American who still pines for the handsome scion of a white family his mother served; and Bernard, the birthday boy who mourns the loss of his youth.
The party culminates with a game in which each must call someone he has loved and tell them about it. The drama is complicated by the presence of Alan, Michael’s former college roommate, who may or may not have outed himself in the process.
In the five decades since the drama’s premiere Off-Broadway, LGBT people have come far, winning marriage equality, workplace protections and most of the rights and privileges of society taken for granted by heterosexuals.
But, is “Boys” strictly a period piece, a look at a particular moment in time seemingly long ago, or a more revealing examination of gay culture that endures, regardless of those advances?
“The play is important because it was the first to put a community of gay men on stage –unapologetically and without a veil of disguise. These were men who weren't all ‘pansies’ or psychologically debilitated. They were simply human,” said Andy Rogow, artistic director of Island City Stage in Wilton Manors.
Rogow added, “It's withstood the test of time AS a period piece. I don't think it's a play anyone would want to make contemporary. The gay community has moved beyond the self-loathing that is felt by the characters in the play. We're less marginalized than those men were. We're proud of our relationships, contributions and our visibility in broader society.”
Carbonell Award-winning playwright Michael McKeever concurred, “It is most definitely a period piece. Gay culture has evolved since this play first premiered. The characters in ‘Boys’ deal with a lot of self-loathing and insecurity … The closet doors are shut tight. Gay men today are much more comfortable with themselves and the lives we can openly and proudly lead.”
To celebrate the play’s 50th anniversary in 2018, Joe Mantello directed a Tony Award-winning Broadway revival, pulling together an A-list Hollywood cast of gay actors including Jim Parsons (Michael), Matt Bomer (Donald), Tuc Watkins (Hank), Andrew Rannells (Larry) and Zachary Quinto (Harold).
That same cast was reunited by Mantello and Executive Producer Ryan Murphy for a film adaptation premiering on Netflix on Sept. 30.
Playwright and local independent Producer Ronnie Larsen was in the audience at one of those sold-out performances.
“When I saw the Broadway production I felt like I was watching a period piece…not a bad thing, just how I was experiencing the play. But, I just saw the movie trailer and it felt incredibly new to me, so I'm very excited about this. I'm also a Ryan Murphy/Joe Mantello fan, so there's that,” Larsen explained.
Both Larsen and McKeever urged LGBT audiences to watch the new film.
Larsen said, “Before the ‘60s, you just didn’t see gay lives portrayed in the theater. It's like we didn't exist, so ‘Boys in the Band’ was a huge announcement declaring we're here and it’s time for us to be in the spotlight.”
“It is a fascinating look at what it was like to be a gay man living in New York City [at the time]. The characters are interesting and the humor – and there is a lot – is biting and very funny. As I said, experiencing it as a period piece is the only way to watch it,” McKeever said.