The Boys in the Band is streaming now on Netflix.
In 1968 an off-Broadway play by Mart Crowley challenged and changed the portrayal of gay men on stage, The Boys in the Band. Its bravery and intimacy would earn the play a ‘cutting-edge’ label in the landscape of gay theatre due to its discussions on internalised homophobia and the painful journey to self-acceptance for a whole generation. By 1970 The Boys in the Band had leapt from stage to screen, with William Friedkin in the director’s chair. However, despite its success on stage, the film suffered from a lack of visibility and mixed critical appraisal. Comments in US media ranged from it being a “perverse interest” to “a humane, moving picture”. Even within the gay community, the film divided opinion, with some gay men believing it to be a huge step forward, while others questioned the internal anguish it portrayed.
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Crowley’s work has been rightly celebrated as a classic of gay theatre and film in the years since its release, with a long overdue broadway revival in 2019 to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The revival cast included Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Charlie Carver, Robin de Jesus, Brian Hutchison, Michael Benjamin Washington and Tuc Watkins. This new production would hold on tight to the time and place of the original play and has now made its way to our screens in a film directed by Tony Award® winner Joe Mantello. As a group of gay male friends come together on a stormy Saturday night in the small New York apartment of the paranoid Michael (Jim Parsons) the incumbent weather is as turbulent as the hidden emotions at play. The reason for their gathering is the birthday of Harold (Zachary Quinto), a wealthy, egotistical and ambivalent friend. However, what starts as a joyous celebration of friendship, slowly descends into a tense exploration of hidden emotions and repressed feelings.
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Joe Mantello offers us a stunning snapshot of late 60s New York that still manages to talk about the gay male experience today. It would be easy to think that gay male life has moved far beyond the world reflected in The Boys in the Band. After all, since its premiere, we have won legal protections, marriage rights and equal age of consent. But in truth, while we have indeed come a long way since 1968, poor mental health, alcohol consumption, and drug use continue to haunt our progress. Much of this is due to the internalised fear that we bottle up during childhood and adolescence.
The Boys in the Band continues to reflect these challenges in belonging and identity fifty years on from its premiere – its narrative rooted in a need to explore the emotional connections, fears and anxieties many gay men still keep locked away. The result is a play that remains just as potent and important today as it was in 1968, its core messages far more urgent and relevant than many of us would like to admit.
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Director: Joe Mantello
Cast: Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Charlie Carver, Robin de Jesus, Brian Hutchison, Michael Benjamin Washington, Tuc Watkins