The cast of The Boys in the Band.
Photo courtesy of Pandora Productions.
The Boys In The Band
By Mart Crowley
Directed by Michael J. Drury
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
1968 was a very different time from today, especially in the LGBT community. It was before Stonewall, before Anita Bryant, before AIDS – a very long time before Marriage Equality. But in Mart Crowley’s play, The Boys in the Band, we get a strong reminder that those times were not easy ones, and that self-loathing and internalized homophobia can be just as horrifying and destructive as HIV and Kim Davis.
The idea that such a point can be made in a play of such wit and heart is a testament to the playwright and any theater group that can do the material justice.
I will admit I had never seen the play or its 1970 film version, so I had no frame of reference for comparison. But after seeing Pandora Productions’ current revival at the Henry Clay, I’m pleased to say that director Michael Drury and his cast has done the material justice, and then some. It’s a show that runs the gamut of emotions with performances that feel sincere, if not always spot-on, with a level of energy and skill that keeps the evening moving briskly through to the rather shocking revelations in the second act.
The loose story involves an evening birthday party among a close group of gay men. Not so much a story as a series of character studies, it plays like a who’s-who of gay stereotypes from the 60’s, but seen through a gay perspective, making them all the more believable.
Shane Whitehead gives by far the best performance in the piece as Harold, the birthday boy; a Jewish man longing for his lost youth and looks but still holding on to his barbed tongue that has a smart retort for everything. It’s a character who could very easily have become annoying in a less skilled performance, but Whitehead nails it, making Harold the most easily relatable character in the piece.
Gerald Robertson is hysterical as flamboyant and effeminate Emory, a complete caricature if there ever was one, but the play very much needs the comic relief he provides. He’s the kind of friend who would give you a prostitute as a birthday present, and lament being called “ma’am” when he speaks to strangers on the phone. Robertson’s portrayal is an absolute delight.
At the other end of the dramatic scale, Andrew Newton gives an intensely serious performance as Michael, the party’s host and a self-loathing lapsed Catholic undergoing psychoanalysis. This character more than any is where I benefited most from being unfamiliar with the story; he starts off as a typical sympathetic protagonist but makes a complete 180 in the second act. I admit I was taken aback by just how cruel and downright nasty this character becomes once his trigger is pulled. I’m not sure if we are supposed to sympathize with him or not, but Newton plays it full on vicious and it is disturbing to watch.
Eric Sharp gives a much more reserved turn as Donald, Michael’s sometime-lover. It’s a character that seemed important when the play began, but really doesn’t contribute much to the overall story and is quickly overshadowed by the other characters. That said, he’s still memorable, largely because Sharp’s characterization may be the most realistic of the bunch.
As a bickering committed couple, Harrison Coffman and David Galloway have some nice moments portraying Hank and Larry, respectively. They are in a difficult space because Hank left his wife for Larry, but the two can’t come to agreement on Larry’s refusal to commit to a monogamous relationship. This subplot is the one that surprises the most, as there is a sweetness and tenderness to it that you wouldn’t expect and is probably the only plot strand that gives us hope for a positive outcome.
Brian West has some funny moments as the lone black man in the group, who still pines for the wealthy white boy who lived in the house where his mother worked as a maid; and Cory Stephens is quite funny as Cowboy, the empty-headed but hard-bodied hustler that Emory hires for Harold. And finally, Michael Lee Stein is utterly believable as the straight former friend whose sudden appearance at the proceedings sets off Michael’s descent into alcohol-fueled chaos.
I only had a few quibbles with some of the choices in the production; for example, there is a scene near the end where two actors in the background are disrobing for a love scene, at the same time an important dramatic conversation is happening in the front. It’s distracting and pulls focus, to say the least. Also, while I don’t know the gay-or-straight status of most of these performers, there were a few times the limp-wristedness rang a bit false, as if the actor may have been trying too hard. These and a few other minor annoyances were noticeable, but honestly, I enjoyed the show so much I feel like I’m splitting hairs!
Drury has really outdone himself with this one, pushing his cast to create an evening of emotional theater that just has to be seen to be believed. From what I hear, tickets are selling well, so reservations are strongly recommended.
Featuring Harrison Coffman, David Galloway, Andrew Newton, Gerald Robertson, Eric Sharp, Michael Lee Stein, Cory Stephens, Brian West, and Shane Whitehead.
The Boys In the Band
January 7 – 17, 2016
At The Henry Clay Theatre
604 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202
For tickets go to: Pandoraproductions.org
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 12 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.