Zeitgeist Stage returns us to 1968 with a charged production of Mart Crowley’s THE BOYS IN THE BAND (playing through Oct. 3rd). As director David Miller says in his program notes, “In the age of Marriage Equality, it’s easy to lose sight of the challenges faced by past generations.”
Challenges indeed. It seemed like a massive struggle at the time. By 1967, JFK, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X had been assassinated. 1968 brought the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Boston was the wild west, with B.C. boys driving around with impunity finding gay men to bash: Lost eyes. Lost teeth. Lost innocence. (Not to mention the lost lives in Viet Nam.) It was not a very good year.
Mart Crowley’s play broke new ground, paving the way for the insightful gay plays that followed. As often happens, when you revisit something you thought was so convincing at the time, you discover its flaws. The playwright crowds THE BOYS IN THE BAND with break-ups, breakthroughs, breakdowns and some hilarious breakout line dancing. He tries to cover all the bases by populating his play with a married man who’s out, a married man who’s definitely interested but denies it, a self-hating hedonist, a self-sacrificing librarian, a flamboyant queen, his African-American lover, a semi-suicidal wag, a street hustler and a player.
BOYS still works despite the tropes and the bizarre party game which (is the device that) gets everyone to reveal the “truth.” I’m inclined to think it works in great part owing to Miller’s witty direction and his talented cast. Victor Shopov has the most difficult role because his character swings wildly from self-pity to menace as host of the birthday party—where the rest of the characters are reactive. Your heart goes out to Diego Buscaglia as Shopov’s long suffering boyfriend.
Mikey DiLoreto supplies cheeky humor as the drama queen who likes to push the envelope. The nasty party game (not unlike the ones Albee invents for WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF) leaves Damon Singletary’s character shaken to the core. His agony is palpable. (As for the racist revelations, they seemed out of character for either man.) Bob Mussett, too, earns our sympathies as the elegant straight (laced) teacher who can’t understand why Gene Dante’s character needs multiple partners. Dante and Mussett have a lovely scene which offers hope for at least one of the couples.
Brooks Reeves wears his raw nerves on the outside as the interloper who may or may not enjoy the party. Ryan Landry gives the obstinate birthday boy a kind heart with a reassuring exit line to a despairing Shopov. Richard Wingert brightens up the Sturm and Drang of the relationship crises as the sweetest of hustlers. He made me think of John Voigt in MIDNIGHT COWBOY.
In the “more things change, the more they stay the same” category, there was the host of the birthday party, obsessing about his hair: He says he has one which he combs forward and flips backward to cover a multitude of sins…and then he references Ayn Rand. For a moment I thought 1968 had collided with the 2015 Republican apprentices! Let’s not do THE TIME WARP again.