More than four decades after it premiered on stage and in movie theatres, people are still talking about “The Boys in the Band.” So what’s it all mean, and where do we go from there?
When the then down-and-out playwright Mart Crowley composed a script from the mansion where he was house sitting, he had no idea he would change the course of history. The script was “The Boys in the Band” and the play opened on April 14, 1968 at Theater Four— far off-Broadway, in New York City. Under the direction of Robert Moore (“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”), “The Boys” ran for 1001 performances and stunned audiences from virtually every strata of society. Two years later, director William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”) recreated the production for film with the original cast— and the movie was every bit as provocative as the live performances preceding it.
When one considers that the plot of “The Boys” is nothing much, a group of gay men converged at a house for a surprise birthday party for their friend, one wonders what all the fuss is about. But it is this very question that director Crayton Robey probes in his fascinating documentary film, “Making the Boys”— and what he unearths will surprise you.
What is immediately noticeable about “Making the Boys” is that it is entirely based on content, and that there are no cinematic gimmicks or special effects to cover up weaknesses in his film. Robey’s approach is interesting, but not without a certain complexity. His initial approach is straight forward: interviews with those involved with the production at the time— such as then possible investor, Edward Albee, producer, Dominick Dunne, surviving cast-members, Laurence Luckinbill (Hank), and Peter White (Alan), etc. At the same, Robey explores gay society by interweaving late-1960s thru 1970s historical context with that of contemporary culture, and getting feedback from everyone from Christian Siriano (Project Runway), female impersonator Candis Cayne, to former mayor Ed Koch. Robey then traverses into a parallel examination of the life of Mart Crowley from the creation of Crowley’s script, the play’s effect on his life (and those of the actors involved), to the play’s aftermath. It is this simultaneous analysis of “The Boys” creator that is particularly tantalizing because it raises the question of whether one can, or really should, separate the artist from his or her work.
What we learn from this extraordinary, insiders’ glimpse into the past and present is that though “The Boys” paved the way to everything from the Stonewall riots to “Will and Grace,” there is nothing even remotely extraordinary about the gay characters it spotlighted. In fact, the characters portrayed in “The Boys in the Band” are as human and ordinary as anyone else, gay or straight, and the fact that it took over four decades to realize this raises certain questions about critical society in general.
Another disturbing bit of fallout from Robey’s film, is that when the younger set are asked who “The Boys in the Band” are, many have no idea—not even Siriano, who asks if they are somehow associated with the Jonas Brothers. All this brings to light is the absolute necessity for more documentary films in our society— so that we can continue to progress by looking back from whence we came.