On The Boys in the Band and its Sequel

Posted on March 29, 2010
Filed Under Book Review | 732 Comments

Plays of Mart CrowleyWhen Gay Plays:  The First Collection was published in 1979, the editor, William Hoffman made the conscious decision to omit Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band. There were a lot of reasons why 1970’s gays didn’t like The Boys in the Band. And these objections were sometimes coached in quasi-political terms.  But I suspect the real reason was quite simply: they had been to that party before. Thirty-plus years later, there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that Mr. Crowley’s play is an American classic–perhaps the quintessential gay play. Interest in The Boys in the Band has recently been renewed, because of a sold-out production in Chelsea.  It closed last night, but the play is available on DVD and a book of Mart Crowley’s collected plays was recently published by Alyson. This book includes The Boys in the Band and a sequel entitled Men from the Boys.  There has been talk about a New York premiere production of Men from the Boys some time soon.

I had several problems with Men from the Boys. First, the set up:  the boys are re-united in the present day to “celebrate the life” of Larry–the first in the group to die. Unfortunately this scenario is way too optimistic.  This particular age group of New York gays was decimated by AIDS.  (By 1993 five of the original cast members of the play–and movie–had died of AIDS.)  And those who survived were transformed by the crisis.  Many were politicized for the first time.  Others were completely turned around.  Gay Republicans found themselves getting arrested at ACT-UP demonstrations.  But the characters in Men from the Boys don’t seem transformed at all.  Rather they seem almost frozen in time. They don’t have any more of a social conscience. They are no more interested in politics. They still have the exact same character traits. Michael still over-spends. Emory still speaks in rhymes and alliterations.  For these reasons I came to view Men from the Boys as a fantasy play: a situation comedy in the most literal sense of the term.  All that said, I found this play to be absolutely delightful.

When it comes to one-liners, Mr. Crowley is at the top of his form here.  And once again it is the most effeminate character, Emory who gets the lion’s share of them. Such as when he refers to the non-introspective host, Michael: “He’s here.  He’s veneer.  Get used to it.”

I was surprised that Harold didn’t get more good lines.  This notoriously pock-marked character got the best lines in The Boys in the Band, including: “Give me Librium or give me meth.”  But in this update, his character came up short.  A new younger character picks up the slack though–more than holding his own against these LBJ-era queens. His best line: “You need help, Michael. Professional help. Your mind is like a bad neighborhood. You shouldn’t go in there alone.”

If the rumors of an upcoming New York production are true, I myself will be near the first in line for the tickets.

The Collected Plays of Mart Crowley is published by Alyson.

UPDATE 5/28/10:  Last night it was announced that The Collected Plays of Mart Crowley won the Lambda Literary Award for drama.  Good call!


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