BWW Reviews: Country Playhouse's THE BOYS IN THE BAND - Surprisingly Relevant, Great Retro Show
As the nation faces an new civil rights battle, homosexuality is a topic that many have opinions about. Country Playhouse is taking audiences back to an era before the Stonewall Riots and before the AIDS epidemic, showcasing the struggles that afflicted homosexuals in the 1960s. As 2013 opens, Country Playhouse is producing Mart Crowley's seminal and classic 1968 play THE BOYS IN THE BAND. The play is set in an Upper East Side apartment in Manhattan, and in a very WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRIGINA WOOLF style, reminds or introduces audiences to a time when the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders included homosexuality in addition to the self-loathing and lack of self-confidence experienced among the homosexual community in that period.
The plot revolves around Michael throwing a birthday party for his "friend," really frenemy, Harold. He has gathered Harold's closest friends to celebrate the event, but Michael's heterosexual, college roommate Alan hurriedly comes to New York, claiming that he has something he must tell Michael. Before long, Alan is at Michael's apartment and is disgusted by the group of men assembled there, especially the effeminate Emory. As drinks are swilled and furiously swallowed, Michael devises a cruel game, all in the hopes of getting Alan to openly out himself, that causes the men to expose their secret loves and backgrounds one by one.
Stuart Purdy's direction of the cast showcases his understanding of the dynamic script, which I had never seen produced before. He mentions in his director's note that he purposely cast the play with an older crowd "to emphasize the survival quotient ? everybody has stayed too long at the fair. But after doing bitter battle, our knights shake off the party dust and promise to call the next day." With no previous incarnations or notions to compare it to, I found this idea to work in the context of the story created by Mart Crowley. It expertly illuminates the notion that these men have dealt with keeping their identities secret and repressed for such a long period in their lives that it has had devastating affects on their psyches, allowing them to slip into self-deprecation and abuse of their closest friends without hesitation. Thus, his direction really exposes the inherent darkness of the script, which still feels surprisingly relevant today. The news constantly reports about homosexual teens bullied into committing suicide, which, in this play, could sincerely be a bleak future for at least one of these characters. No one has ever said being gay was easy, and Mart Crowley's work under Stuart Purdy's direction makes that abundantly clear.
Even though this is Michael and Allan's story, for me the star of the show was Jay Menchaca's flamboyant Emory. I found Jay Menchaca's Emory to be instantly likeable and enjoyable, effortlessly earning laughs as he flits to and fro. When Alan loses it and attacks Emory, my heart skipped a beat because I was concerned about the character. Whether it is the writing or the portrayal, the constant self-loathing and hatred for their position in life caused me to not emotionally connect with the other characters on stage, but that simply was not the case for Jay Mechaca's Emory. Likewise, I was completely enraptured by Emory's monologue about who he was calling in Michael's cruel game.
Playing Michael, Travis Springfield reminded me a lot of Matthew Broderick's recent stage work. The character, despite his ongoing self-deprecation, gives off this self-knowing vibe of superiority. Many, if not all of the lines, are delivered as sardonic quips or sarcastic punch lines. Travis Springfield's Michael is played so that the hate he has for himself is transferred onto those he associates with, so he, like George and Martha in Edward Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRIGINA WOOLF, seems to delight in the psychological torment of his friends.
As Donald, Adam Richardson creates a character that seems to get lost in the mix of the action. As the partner to Travis Springfield's Michael, the play's action allows him to fall by the wayside. In this production, it is not clear if the two men are actually affectionate. They discuss shared moments of intimacy, but neither seems devoutly in love with the other; thus, they seem to be biding their time together. After the party is over, Adam Richardson's Donald retreats to his books. He shares a brief moment with Michael that indicates that he'll be there next week as well. But there is no tangibly romantic or affectionate connection between the two, leaving me to wonder why Donald and Michael are even together to begin with.
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