Paul T Davies reviews the filmed adaptation of Mart Crowley’s The Boys In The Band now streaming on Netflix.
The Boys in the Band.
Streaming now on Netflix.
Mart Crowley’s play has had an interesting route to get to this Netflix movie. Premiering off-Broadway in 1968, it was groundbreaking in its portrayal of gay life, witty, bitchy and portraying a group of gay men under oppression, both societal and self- oppression. There was a film in 1970, but over time the play fell out of favour. As calls for equality grew, gay men insisted they weren’t like the characters in the film, and during the AIDS era, they were not the kind of gay men that activists wanted to promote, (Bithy, camp, self -loathing and accepting their place at the bottom of the food chain.) Now a younger generation have said, “yes, we are like that”, and the annual bitch fest of Ru Paul’s Drag Race has put paid to that argument. It’s gradually been coming back, with off-Broadway revivals and an excellent run at the Park Theatre in 2016 with Mark Gatiss as Harold. This is Joe Mantello’s 50th-anniversary production, staged on Broadway in 2018, featuring an openly gay cast and winning the Tony for Best Revival of a Play in 2019.
The premise is simple. Michael throws a birthday party for his “frenemy” Harold, and the sudden arrival of his former college roommate, Alan, a possibly closeted gay man separating from his wife, is the catalyst for booze and a tense party game in which a drunken Michael challenges the men to ring someone they have always been in love confess their feelings. Jim Parsons is excellent as Michael, seemingly the lynchpin of the group, but quickly revealed as a nasty drunk, vicious in projecting his self-hatred out to the group. From the second he appears, Zachary Quinto is outstanding as Harold, never raising his voice above a sardonic drawl, stoned, yet with a starting perception of the men and the group dynamic. The ensemble, grooved by months performing on Broadway, work seamlessly together, and there isn’t a weak link. Robin de Jesus is a show-stealing Emory, camp and witty, Tuc Watkins a brilliant buttoned-up Hank, Charlie Carver hilarious as the dumb hustler Cowboy, (who is supposed to be the Midnight Cowboy but arrives too early), and Brian Hutchinson conveys Alan with empathy and convincing confusion leaving the audience to decide his sexuality.
A play like this will always betray its one set roots, but Montello cleverly opens it up with flashbacks in the party game scenes, great opening and closing montages, and showing the men in their bubble as Manhattan flows along. I’ve heard it called the gay Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?, and in its drinking and games there is a powerful correlation, but it’s also a template for Kevin Elyot’s 1994 classic My Night With Reg. This production brings the play into sharp focus and is a beautifully recreated time capsule of a period when these men could have been imprisoned for their activities, as is the case for many LGBTQ people around the world. It feels as if the play’s time has come, and it is a welcome addition to Netflix’s LGBTQ+ content. I also love the fact that a cake was left out in the rain…