The Boys in the Band
By Mart Crowley
Through June 29
Studio Playhouse, 14 Alvin Place
By GWEN OREL
It’s an old-fashioned play.
“The Boys in the Band” is one of those plays, like Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” where the playwright uses a conceit to keep people in a room telling their stories. In “Virginia Woolf” it’s a demented party game, and Crowley, perhaps in a nod to the 1966 play, which opened just two years before his, uses the same device.
But who says old-fashioned is bad?
You might even sigh at the midcentury modern furniture and decor of Studio Players’ production (design by director E. Dale Smith-Gallo and actor Ken Budris), which runs through June 29.
There are nine characters, but most of the scenes involve only a couple of people talking at a time.
Still there’s no denying that Act Two sometimes drags, and you’ll likely get ahead of a lot of it.
Crowley’s play is often considered a groundbreaking drama in its straightforward, unapologetic presentation of homosexuals. It’s also gotten its share of disapproval for its portrayal of self-loathing, and stereotypical characters.
Merely being homosexual was a criminal offense until 1980 in New York City. In June 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, and the Stonewall riots began.
It was a very different time from the days of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “Will & Grace.”
This June marks 50 years since then, 50 years of gay pride.
In the play, Michael (Michael Smith-Gallo), a flamboyant but unhappy writer, throws a birthday party for his friend Harold (John L’Ecuyer).
Gay couples are invited, bearing casseroles, teaching dance steps.
Then Michael gets a call from his straight, married, old Georgetown roommate Alan (Bill Barry). Alan, in tears, begs to come over.
One of Michael’s guests, Emory (Aaron Kellner), whom Alan calls a “little pansy,” provokes Alan — who punches him.
Michael, who’d sworn off drinking for five weeks, takes a swig just as the lights go down.
It’s in Act Two that we get the revelatory party game.
Now drunk, Michael is pissy and insists everyone play a game where they call the person they really loved, with points awarded for speaking and saying “I love you.”
Every character then gets a little monologue about gay love, generally unrequited.
And it’s clear Michael expects Alan to call some man.
Overall, E. Dale Smith-Gallo does a fine job keeping action moving and clear, no easy task for a large ensemble, most of whom are onstage most of the time.
Costume designs by Amy Fox and Martha Bauver nicely put all the gay men in patterned trousers or shorts except for conservatively dressed math teacher Hank. As Michael, Michael Smith-Gallo’s movie impressions and mood swings sometimes grate; it’s hard to tell which Michael is pushing too hard, but mostly, it works. (On the other hand, repeated lines about his hair falling out don’t work at all; the audience has eyes). Kellner’s Emory steals every scene as he calls everyone “Mary” and curtsies, using his shorts as a skirt.
Emory also uncomfortably addresses his lover, Bernard, as an “African queen.” (But don’t worry, that too gets confronted in the party game).
Josh Musgrave’s Bernard shows range and sensitivity, particularly in his call to the son of the woman his mother cleaned for. Here’s hoping to see more of him soon.
Though not every performance succeeds equally, overall “The Boys in the Band” is a fine ensemble portrayal of a moment and a mood.