The Boys In The Band: Raging Gracefully

Author : relfn0s2o
Publish Date : 2020-10-24


The Boys In The Band: Raging Gracefully

Inspired, at least in part, by critic Stanley Kauffman's challenge to gay playwrights to ditch all the hinting and coding and veiled metaphor so as to honestly and openly depict the lives of homosexuals in their work, Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band debuted off-Broadway in 1968.

The structure was simple and not, to any regular theatergoer, unfamiliar: Over the course of an evening, characters gather, get drunk and turn on one another. Things get said that cannot be unsaid. Secrets are revealed. Curtain, house lights up.

The difference, of course, was that 1.It was a group of gay men doing all that gathering and drinking and lashing out, and 2. The lives of gay men in 1968 being what they were, most of the lashing taking place on stage turned out to be self-flagellation. These characters were caustically funny, yes, but they were also wracked with guilt and shame and self-hatred.

The play was a hit, and was made into a stagey movie directed by William Friedkin in 1970. The movie was not a hit.

There were many reasons for that, but surely one of them must have been what happened in the year that fell between the debut of the play and the premiere of the movie: the 1969 Stonewall riots.

The mood had changed. To many theatergoers in 1968, schlepping into the city from Scarsdale or Ronkonkoma to take in "the homosexual play" must have seemed like a way to dip a toe into the bohemian counterculture that Life magazine was always going on about. After the Stonewall uprising, however, the queer community was flush with a sense of righteous anger and defiance. Suddenly, Crowley's gaggle of inward-turning, neurotic, self-loathing yet exceedingly comfortable (mostly) white men no longer seemed like a bold statement. They felt like broad caricatures from the darkest, most self-conscious corner of the closet.

But Crowley's decision to center a play on the lives of gay men in 1968 was important, and remains so, in terms of media representation of marginalized groups. Depictions of queers in entertainment have generally followed the same slow, steady series of steps, over time, that depictions of women and people of color have:

First, we're the villain — the enemy that the (white, straight, male) hero must vanquish, to re-establish the status quo.

Next, we're the victim — the poor pitiable soul that the (white, straight, male) hero must selflessly defend (or, all too often, avenge) to establish his virtue.

Then, we're the ally — the sidekick, the sassy friend who fires off a snappy line to encourage the hero to chase his dream.

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