Friday, June 8, 2018

The Boys in the Band

There's been a lot of chatter about The Boys in the Band over the last few months. Late last year, it played in London starring Mark Gatiss in a production I would have loved to have seen. And this year it opened on Broadway with a cast of 9 openly gay, hugely talented actors. The cast was definitely the biggest draw for me, as it usually is.  

Seeing these men together was thrilling. Let's get this out of the way. Each actor is perfectly cast to his role. I read a few reviews that mentioned Jim Parsons, as maybe not quite well-suited for the role of Michael, the hostile has-been throwing the party. However, I find him perfectly cast. I've seen him on stage (An Act of God) and as Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) and this Jim Parsons is a completely different person. His wit is there, but the charm is all gone. He definitely shines. Matt Bomer, in his debut, while not having much to do, is stellar as the quiet Donald - seemingly the only one that truly understands (and possibly likes) Michael.  Charlie Carver as Cowboy - the clueless stripper, brings all the humor. His innocence and confusion is the perfect counterpoint to the rest of the men's cynicism and anger. 

As usual, Andrew Rannells is fantastic as the sardonic Larry, who after attempting a real relationship with Hank (Broadway first-timer Tuc Watkins), has decided that maybe monogamy isn't for him. His Larry is loud and brash. He's all over the stage, and seems to be the only actor that actually treats the evening as the party it's supposed to be - enjoying himself the whole time. 

After those glowing remarks about the cast, you may think I loved the show equally as much. However, I have mixed feelings about it as a whole. The reason it's being produced now is that it's the show's 50th anniversary. The Boys in the Band, first premiered in 1968 as the first play that portrayed gay men in a very real way, as opposed to playing them for laughs. Thankfully though, over the last 50 years, the LGBTQ community have made significant strides toward equality. Therein lies the problem with the 50 year old piece.

On one hand, I can understand the desire to show LGBTQ individuals just how far the community has come in the last 50 years. The men in the play are throwing the party at Michael's house because they are forbidden from having it in public. One of the main characters - Alan (another Broadway first-timer Brian Hutchinson) - is so horrified by the men, that he punches Emory (Robin de Jesus). The climate was very different, and while it's still not perfect, LGBTQ individuals have come so far. Why not use these openly gay, and very famous actors to give young people today a history of what their predecessors went through pre-Stonewall?  

But on the other hand, the language in the piece is often so crass that the historic message gets lost. The play has been cut down to 90 minutes with no intermission, which helps the pace. But in the cuts, the creatives left in offensive references to the N-word in response to African-American Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington), and "Nancys" and the F-word in response to each other's sexuality. These words have thankfully been all but erased in civilized society today, as they should also be erased from the play. The same goes for the almost masochistic way the men think of themselves in regards to their sexual orientation. Today while the LGBTQ community is being taught to feel pride and be themselves, these men are despondent about their fate. Yes, in 1968 there wasn't much to be excited about in the community, however maybe that's not the best message to reaffirm today.

The show is beautifully realized, and the impact of 9 openly gay men appearing onstage for the first time is a watershed moment in theatre. I only wish the creatives had chosen a more inclusive show to share this vision of equality and pride. 

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