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Digital Subscriptions > Attitude > Issue 275 > Band Of Brothers

Band Of Brothers

MART CROWLEY’S PLAY THE BOYS IN THE BAND HAS BEEN SHOCKING AUDIENCES SINCE 1968 — A REALISTIC DEPICTION OF GAY LIFE HAD NEVER BEFORE BEEN STAGED. NOW, AS A NEW PRODUCTION OPENS, WE TALK TO MARK GATISS AND THE REST OF THE CAST ABOUT HOW IT MAY STILL BE SHOCKING BUT FOR DIFFERENT REASONS MART CROWLEY’S PLAY THE BOYS IN THE BAND HAS BEEN SHOCKING AUDIENCES SINCE 1968 — A REALISTIC DEPICTION OF GAY LIFE HAD NEVER BEFORE BEEN STAGED.

QUEER THEATRE SPECIAL

THE PLAY

FORGET MOST OF WHAT YOU’VE HEARD about the 1960s being the era of freedom and mad excess. For the entire decade in the UK it was almost impossible to buy alcohol after 11pm. You could be imprisoned for smoking a joint or watching porn. And for most of the decade, homosexuality was illegal and the level of censorship — particularly in the theatre — was absurd. Until his government office was abolished in 1968, the Lord Chamberlain would not allow “practical demonstrations of love between homosexuals.”

Things were almost as bad in the USA. Then, in 1967, the New York State law forbidding “sex degeneracy or sex perversion” was repealed. New York Times drama critic Stanley Kauffmann hoped that someone would write an honest play without coded references to homosexuality. Kauffmann’s piece was read by a 33-year-old TV production assistant named Mart Crowley. “As I was out of work and had the idea for a play,” Crowley said subsequently, “I thought: why not me?”

The play for which Crowley had an idea was The Boys in the Band. In this bitter comedy, eight — possibly nine — gay men (Alan claims he’s straight, but we never discover whether he’s telling the truth) gather in a New York apartment for a birthday party. Apart from Alan, there’s also the host Michael, a neurotic with a drink problem; his ex, Donald, one of life’s failures; Emory, a screaming queen; jaded couple Hank and Larry; Bernard, a black man who has to tolerate the others’ racism; a dumb hustler called Cowboy; and birthday boy Harold, a cynical bitch. Asked who inspired these characters, Crowley has maintained, “All of them are split-off pieces of myself.”

Stop reading now if you don’t want to know what happens in the play. In Act II, in a device Crowley admits he adapted from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (one of the coded gay plays to which Kauffmann objected), Michael demands that his guests play a truth game. It leads to tortured confessions, breakdowns and Michael seeking solace in the Church. It’s not a pretty sight.

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About Attitude

On the cover, Nyle DiMarco talks about how being deaf was no obstacle to winning America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars. Plus: Queer theatre special with an exclusive interview and shoot with Mark Gatiss and the cast of The Boys in the Band, hot electronic pop duo Aluna George, singer Rebecca Ferguson, and Fear the Walking Dead star Colman Domingo.
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