Tag Archives: Boys in the Band

The Boys in the Band

1 Oct

‘The Boys in the Band’: Having a gay old time, from the stage to Netflix in over a half-century

By Tom Meek

It seems that 1968 is all the rage in 2020. Last week we had Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” about those held responsible for the 1968 Democratic Convention riots; over at the Roxbury International Film Festival there’s “The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show,” a documentary about NBC’s socially minded response to race riots in the late 1960s. Now there’s this cinematic adaptation of Mart Crowley’s “The Boys in the Band,” a play weaving in and out of a gay birthday party in a New York City flat that’s thrown into chaos when a straight man shows up. The revisit is not so much fond nostalgia, but a dialogue about where we are now: divided, having seemingly made little progress.

Learning of the Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “American Horror Story”) produced project, I wasn’t quite sure another film version of Crowley’s honest and open look at gay culture pressure-cooked by social judgment was necessary. The 1970 adaptation directed by Willam Friedkin (who would go on to do “The French Connection,” “The Exorcist” and “Cruising”) was a tight, clustered affair driven by anger and revelation. That’s somewhat less true here. There’s more bounce and ebullition before the sour turn of confronting one’s past and hard truths. The play was resurrected on Broadway in 2018 for its 50th anniversary, and the stage director there (Joe Mantello) and entire cast boot up for this Netflix production – with better sets, multiple takes and a bigger platform.

The cast is excellent, especially Jim Parsons as party host Michael, who inadvertently invites an old college friend, Alan (Brian Hutchison), who’s straight (is he?). Michael’s got a lot of catty sass – “Just because I wear expensive clothes doesn’t mean they’re paid for” – which peels away when Alan shows up and strikes another party member in the face for using female pronouns for men and being a “pansy.” And the guest of honor hasn’t arrived. From there the boozy evening spirals inward and downward, not so much because of Alan, but because of global self-hating that’s in frame from scene one. These are deeply carved characters that have been known and lived in. The masks get pulled off and you’re in, in deep.

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