Mart Crowley :: The Man Behind the ’Boys’
It never ceases to amaze me that there are gay men who have never experienced The Boys in the Band. And, come to think of it, lesbians. And heterosexuals. And transgendered. And questioning.
It’s not just because "Boys" is the ür-text of urban gay male bonding. Nor is it because "Boys" is the landmark gay play, which, coming two years before Stonewall, presaged that big bang event and its aftermath in so many, many ways. Nor even because the play and later movie have become legendary in show business annals.
No, I’m surprised because The Boys in the Band, is, quite simply, one of the greatest American plays of the 20th century.
The premise is deceptively simple: A group of gay men meet in an East Side apartment to celebrate one of their posse’s birthday. The straight former college roommate of the host arrives to upset the equilibrium. As the evening goes on, everyone gets drunker (and, in some cases, more stoned on pot--it’s the ’60s).
They play a vicious "Truth" game in which they have to contact the one person each one has truly loved. At evening’s end, Michael, the host, is reduced to a pathetic mess. "If we could only learn to stop hating ourselves," he moans.
Since it premiered off-Broadway in April 1968, "Boys" has invited interpretation and controversy. That original production became the year’s theatrical sensation. Each night, the small theater was packed with celebrities who trekked to the Village to see what all the fuss was about.
Still can sting
In the ensuing decades, "Boys" has lost none of its sting. Thanks largely to an excellent film transfer--one of the very few times a New York cast of unknowns was brought over whole to the film version--the play has stayed in the public eye.
Many have dismissed "Boys" as a period piece or condemned Crowley as being as self-hating as Michael. Well, maybe. Maybe not. Like any great work of art--and trust, me this indeed is a work of art, downright Shakespearean in its conception and achievement--it leaves itself open to various interpretations.
My own personal take is that Crowley has constructed archetypes who stand the test of time and place. Pauline Kael compared Crowley’s band of brothers (or "girlfriends") to one of those World War II movies, with the hillbilly, the Brooklyn white ethnic, the Ivy League-educated WASP, etc.
Here, it’s the couple fighting because one wants monogamy, the other wants to play around; the femmy guy with the interior soul made of steel; the well-educated, heavy reader who could never get it together and works odd jobs; the pock-marked unattractive guy who smokes too much pot and protects himself with bitchy bon mots.
And people think these guys somehow magically disappeared after June 1969, when the queers fought the police at Stonewall? As Emory might say, "Oh, Mary, get over yourself."
This production of The Boys in the Band is being produced by the Transport Group, a great Downtown troupe that is dedicated to reviving 20th century American classics. It received a special Drama Desk citation for its "breadth fo vision and its presentation of challenging productions."
Every member of the all-male cast will be known to theater aficionados. Mart Crowley, who moved back to New York after a long, long sojourn in Los Angeles, helped oversee the casting and is involved in this production.