“THE BOYS IN THE BAND”— Smiling Through Heartbreak


Smiling Through Heartbreak

Amos Lassen

The Netflix adaption of the landmark Mart Crowley play about pre-Stonewall gay New Yorkers is finally here and reactions are mixed. First off, there is a difference between the final moments of Netflix’s film adaptation of “The Boys in the Band” and the Tony-winning 2018Broadway show that it is based on. On stage, the closing scene ended with the lights dimming on a couple who reached a truce with a sensual reaffirmation of their love. This left us with a gorgeous image of strength and survival in the face of shame and fear and being set apart from the rest of society. This is just one of several scenes of gay men in pre-Stonewall New York. We see one “boy” find sexual friendship for one night with a male prostitute, two “boys” hold on to a friendship that was tenuous, another “boy” is spread out on the sofa and yet another is in a bar having one more drink before morning before re-entering the closet. Finally another “boy” runs down the street.

Michael (Jim Parsons) might be running toward something but we see him running away from the camera into night and this seems to mean that there is some kind of hope after an evening of misery.

But we really do not know and the way director Joe Mantello handles the film (with a wonderful cast of gay actors), makes everything open to thought. What we really is what it was to live in an atmosphere of hate and intolerance.

The screenplay by Crowley and Ned Martel uses both the original play and William Friedkin’s 1970 screen version. Attitudes have changed since the release of the film and the original production and “The Boys in the Band” is still quite funny et it is really inference that gay men led lives that were filled with sorrow, loneliness and bitterness.

The script revolves around a .birthday party for Michael’s best “frenemy” Harold (Zachary Quinto), who is, as he says, an “ugly, pockmarked Jew fairy” and  who is filled with disdain. He has something to say about everyone and is quite bitchy when he does so. He is especially hard on himself and shares his feelings of guilt of having to live beyond his means to compensate for the emptions he is unable to deal with.

The actors played their roles for three and a half months on stage before making the film and they have become their characters. Parsons works hard to create the internal damage when he speaks. When Michael pushes everyone to the limit, Harold lets him have it. Quinto gives us a Harold who is aloof and who has learned to coexist with his bitterness.

The exchanges between Emory and Bernard, as they mock one another and then beg forgiveness after they have gone too far as quite good. Larry is an ultra-confident person who refuses to apologize for his sexual proclivities. .

Crowley was ahead of his time in putting gay men’s lives on stage with no allegory and while what he says is often dated and formulaic. But it’s also very much alive and we see the “ destructive force of societal rejection, even in a bastion of liberal acceptance like New York City.”

When “The Boys in the Band” opened on Broadway the first time, it was a revolutionary work of commercial theater that took you into the lives of half a dozen gay New Yorkers. Back then even the most celebrated American playwrights, a number of whom were gay (Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee), were constrained in how they presented gay characters. Crowley changed that by bringing us a truth-game psychodrama about a group of gay men who share everything about themselves by the end.  Today “The Boys in the Band”  is a nostalgic look at the days when sitting around a New York apartment with friends good.

Emory (Robin de Jesús), the most flaming and childlike among them. Larry (Andrew Rannells) and Hank (Tuc Atkins), his older live-in partner play out a domestic dilemma that feels archetypal but genuine enough. As Bernard, Michael Benjamin Washington is a gentle soul who is trapped by his sexuality and his race.

The movie is held together by Harold’s mystique and wonderful delivery of every line and the tormented passion that Jim Parsons brings to Michael. Michael never lets us forget what drives him. He can get be cruel, but it’s only because of how much he is hurting. That’s true of everyone in the movie.

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