“The Boys In The Band,” A Play About Gay Life In 1970

Inspired by a CBS News story about the playwright Mart Crowley’s insightful “The Boys in the Band,” I sought out an old movie adaptation of the play, and then attended the performance on Broadway a few days later. It was a unique and educational experience for me.

The first thing you should know is that the show is not a musical. However the cast danced to great, recorded music during the performance.

The play showcases the trying lives, issues and choices gay men faced 50 years ago in America. In the opening moments of the show, the dialogue was light and witty about the band’s persuasions. The players jousted with each other. It was funny, although their comments would be resented if uttered by a straight person in 1968 or now in 2018.

I was taken aback as the boys aggressively needled each other. Supposedly they were friends celebrating the birthday of one of their own. Yet I came to realize these comments about sexuality, morals and intelligence were an important element of the show.

The play is shrouded in comical quips and one-liners, but the subject matter is not a laughing matter. The audience responded loudly, but they were not so amused by the time the performance ended.

The reality is that gays and lesbians have been persecuted by society since the beginning of time. To this day some homosexuals hide their sexuality fearing the ramifications of not doing so. Coming out has to be a major event for every gay person. How brave these people are. Revealing one’s true sexual feelings publicly must be a monumental ordeal in spite of greater tolerance in recent times.

In the day, gays hung out in bars and other places that catered to their edgy and sometimes perilous lifestyles. These places provided a modicum of safety. In the case of the boys, they chose to have a party in the apartment of one of the members to avoid interference by outsiders.

That was the plan until a college classmate of one of the attendees phoned and showed up unexpectedly. Mostly everyone assumed that the interloper was straight and tiptoed around the subject of homosexuality. It wasn’t hard for the guest to ascertain what was transpiring.

Without giving away the story, the sexual persuasion of the new attendee was in question. Even in the comfort of a gay man’s home, the group was walking on eggshells relating to their own sexuality. The new man upset a fragile balance and evoked a raft of self-loathing and paranoia among each member of the band.

Are the prospects of gays and lesbians better now than in 1970? For sure they are. It’s illegal to discriminate against anyone based upon sexual preference. Gay and lesbian couples may now marry and be recognized by the state.

The big question is why were homosexual couples only permitted to marry just recently? Why were they denied an opportunity to be happy and find personal and financial security? How did our country benefit by not allowing members of this group to formally and legally recognize their relationships?

It’s all behind us now, hopefully. Yet it’s sensible for the LGBT community to remain diligent and careful about covert bigotry. Gays and lesbians remain at risk and are vulnerable in spite of great strides in recent years.

I recommend everyone see “The Boys in the Band,” live or the original version on demand.

2 thoughts on ““The Boys In The Band,” A Play About Gay Life In 1970

  1. I so much enjoy reading your thoughts on gay marriage and LGBTQ rights in general. I know that you are a compassionate heterosexual family man and I love that you recommend seeing Crowleys incredible work showing the antics and the banter of the past two generations of gay men. As a gay man who is nearly 50, I have had many friends who were part of that generation and have, of course, experienced the remnants of bigotry and hatred that was prevalent in many parts of America even through the 90’s. The generation Crowley shows paved the way for current and future gay men who have little concept of what it was really like to grow up in complete hiding. The banter (that makes me squirm a bit now) was actually the tough talk that helped them to survive and allowed laughter through the pain that was their reality. I also think that so much of the sexual promiscuity and behavior of that time (and even my early 20’s) was a direct result of being made to feel like social deviants and being forced to hide in the darkness. I can recall experiencing Fire Island in the early 90’s as the high school years I never got to experience and New York was a kind of freedom playground. This was the case with many of my contemporaries. I will check out the B’way version ASAP!

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