The Boys in the Band is a classic gay play, staged in 1968, with values that now root it as a period piece.
In 2018, 50 years after playwright Mart Crowley broke ground with his Broadway play, it was revived with an all-star cast: Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, and Andrew Rannells. Director Joe Mantello and producer Ryan Murphy now bring it to the screen via Netflix, as a perfect solution for those of us who never saw the revival.
Make no mistake, this remains a period piece, but an important one nonetheless. It reminds us where we have been and the progress that was made by those who came before us.
Faithfully set in a small New York apartment, producers have resisted the temptation to ‘open it out’ for the screen. Instead it zeroes in on the dialogue, relationships and captivating performances of the ensemble.
Jim Parsons stars as Michael who is hosting a small birthday party for Harold (Zachary Quinto). The guests include Donald (Matt Bomer), discreet partners Larry (Andrew Rannells) & Hank (Tuc Watkins), and friends Emory (Robin de Jesús) and Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington).
In the confines of his apartment the men can shed their inhibitions in ways they cannot do beyond Michael’s front door. The dialogue crackles with snappy repartee, bitchy quips and politically incorrect putdowns amongst close friends.
But when his former college roommate Alan (Brian Hutchison) arrives unexpectedly, Michael begins to make excuses for their behaviour. Admitting they are homosexual in 1968 (before 1969’s Stonewall riots) is a no-no, although some such as Emory aren’t about to apologise for their behaviour.
As more alcohol is poured, there is confrontation, a dangerous game, truth, tears and a surprise ‘Midnight Cowboy’ in the form of sexy Charlie Carver.
Several of the performances are dazzling, notably a Jim Parsons tour de force, fresh from his bitchy agent in Murphy’s recent Hollywood, and a striking Zachary Quinto purring his lines from behind his ’70s spectacles.
The Boys in the Band confronts internalised homophobia head on, wrapped around Catholic guilt and values that would never get past a script editor in 2020. But sincerely recreated in 1968 one is reminded of the walls that had to be broken for freedoms we now take for granted. This may make it a tough watch for some (I cringed several times) and the dialogue-heavy structure and staging is often claustrophobic.
But the benefits more than outweigh any concerns. Generations of viewers will get an insight into queer history thanks to this revival.
The Boys in the Band is now screening on Netflix.