|The Boys in the Band|
A deliriously delicious, bitingly bitchy, groundbreaking gay play comes to Perth!
Award-winning director Barry Park is at the helm of the forthcoming GRADS’ production of Mart Crowley’s groundbreaking smash hit play THE BOYS IN THE BAND, which will be staged at The Dolphin Theatre, UWA from 4th to 14th November, during PrideFest.
After half a century, back on stage will be the camping, the fighting and laughing and crying, Mart Crowley’s insightful portrait of gay friendship as both endurance test and saving grace.
One of the first productions to put gay lives front and centre, it is about a group of entertaining, angst-ridden, openly gay men who gather for a friend's birthday - which goes horribly wrong.
Director Barry Park, whose productions have all achieved considerable success, has twice won the Finley’s Director Award, for his productions of August: Osage County, and M. Butterfly. Among his other acclaimed productions in Perth are: Present Laughter, A View from the Bridge, Other Desert Cities, Design for Living, The Real Thing, Broken Glass, All My Sons, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, all of which were nominated for several Finley Awards.
‘This play has a wide appeal,’ Park says, ‘as it is an engrossing, character-driven story. Older audiences will be reminded about how different attitudes and values were in the 60s, while those who are younger will be intrigued to see how difficult it was to be gay 52 years ago. Many will recognise aspects of themselves in the play, as essentially the play is about how people relate to one other. ‘
Park, who is enjoying bringing the notable play to life, says that all the characters are very skilfully depicted and he is enjoying working with his talented cast and bringing out the subtle nuances in their dialogue.
He says, ‘Award-winning actor Thomas Dimmick is skilfully playing Michael, the protagonist, perhaps the most fascinating character. Self-loathing, bitter and increasingly inebriated, he inflicts a cruel game on his party guests.’
‘Jason Dohle plays Donald, Michael’s conflicted friend who, having moved far from the city to spurn the gay lifestyle, returns for the evening and meets an ex-lover, now in a relationship.’
‘Emory, the most flamboyantly gay character, is the physical and verbal target of one of Michael’s homophobic friends and is also one of the victims of Michael’s humiliating party game. He is played effectively by Cameron Leese.’
‘Ex-Neighbours actor Robert Jackson plays the straight-acting teacher Hank, who has left his wife and children to live with his male partner. He brings an interesting twist to Michael’s game.’
‘Hank’s partner, Larry, played by Steven Hounsome, is a character whose reluctance to commit to a monogamous relationship elicits interesting conflict in the play.’
‘Fun-loving Bernard, played by American actor Erik Bibaeff, is a kind, sympathetic victim of Michael’s Affairs of the Heart game.’
‘Alex Ripper plays Alan, a homophobic straight ex-roommate of Michael’s, an unexpected guest at the party, who, after taunting some of the gay characters, has skeletons ripped out of his closet.’
‘The Cowboy, a naïve, attractive young male hooker, brought to the party as a present for Harold, and astounded by what he witnesses, is played by young Lindsay Crane.’
‘Harold, obsessed with his lack of good looks, poor complexion and fleeting youth, the last to arrive at the party, late and intoxicated, is played with panache by Adam Poole.’
Park says, ‘The delicious dialogue of the play delightfully captures the gay patois of the 1960s. The characters use it as a weapon, shield or a style.’
‘Each character is unique, and their individual buoyant styles reflect the resilient attitudes of 1960s gay New Yorkers who tenaciously led secretive lives in a strongly disapproving society.’
‘Today,’ Park notes, ‘actors are eager to play the wonderful roles, but when Crowley first brought the groundbreaking story to New York City, it was difficult to find actors to bring the characters to life.’
He quotes playwright Crowley: ‘The first time, we would take anyone who would do it; we were beating the bushes. The actors who did do it were very brave. It was very different back then. You could get arrested for doing the things they do in this play. It was quite awful and ridiculous and demeaning. Naturally, everybody's agent told them not to do this play. We offered the roles and many turned it down. Agents said it was a career killer. I have to acknowledge the bravery of the guys who did it anyway.’
When THE BOYS IN THE BAND first opened, the 1968 off-Broadway game-changer broke new ground in its depiction of mostly gay, mostly New York characters.
Opening more than a year before the Stonewall Inn uprising in Greenwich Village, the play was a catalyst of the gay-rights movement. It gave new visibility to the world it depicted, with the show drawing both gay and straight audience members, including high-profile ones.
Staged at Theater Four on West 55th Street in Manhattan, the play ran for more than two years and more than 1,000 performances. ‘The first performance was about half-full. At the second, you couldn't get in the door to the workshop space because there were so many people. On top of that, the phone was ringing off the hook from every celebrity in town,’ Crowley remembered.
THE BOYS IN THE BAND was a widely successful play and film as it was entirely about a group of gay men — the first of its kind. It captures the experience of a certain set of gay men of the 1960s: the angry, conflicted, gay men who were psycho-sexually tortured by the societal position that gay men had to occupy at the time.
‘The power of the play,’ Clive Barnes wrote in his review in The New York Times, ‘is the way in which it remorselessly peels away the pretensions of its characters and reveals a pessimism so uncompromising in its honesty that it becomes in itself an affirmation of life.’
Over time, the play has come to be seen as pivotal to opening up dialogue. It continues to be meaningful and many celebrate it as a pioneering work in the LGBTQ canon, worthy of honouring with a revisit.
In 2010, when the Transport Group Off Broadway was reviving THE BOYS IN THE BAND, several playwrights spoke of the work’s influence on them. Larry Kramer had seen the play both in New York and in London.
‘It was the London one that was life-changing in a way for me,’ he said, ‘because it showed me as a writer, as a gay person, as a gay writer, what was possible to do in the commercial theatre. The theatre in London was packed, and people loved the play and gave it a standing ovation.’
Fifty years after it first opened, THE BOYS IN THE BAND finally made it to Broadway, a production that won the Tony Award for best revival, directed by Joe Mantello with a cast that included Zachary Quinto and Jim Parsons.
Mantello, who previously worked with Murphy on HBO’s 2014 adaptation of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, is directing a new film version of the play. Featuring the entire Broadway cast, it is on Netflix in September.
THE BOYS IN THE BAND has received accolades from reviewers. ‘A play of real substance, one that deserves to be performed not occasionally but regularly,’ wrote The Wall Street Journal. ‘THE BOYS IN THE BAND … goes from wittily bitchy to heartbreakingly brutal…’ Out Magazine observed.
Be sure not to miss the rare opportunity to see this deliriously delicious, bitingly bitchy, groundbreaking gay play, which has not been performed in Perth for years!
When: 4 - 7 & 11 - 14 November, 7:30pm. 7 & 14 November, 2pm.
Duration: 2h including interval
For wheelchair accessible seats and group bookings of 8+ please call 6488 2440 Monday to Friday, 12pm to 4pm.
Venue: Dolphin Theatre, University of WA, Perth