"The Boys in the Band" presented by Transport Group Theatre Company, February 17, 2010
(photo: Carol Rosegg)
Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall at someone's party? That's exactly what director Jack Cummings, III has done with this revival of Mart Crowley's 1968 play. Mr. Cummings has furnished a loft space in the Flatiron District and seated the audience all around the large room to observe the fireworks. We are all guests at Michael's to celebrate Harold's 32 birthday.
The setting is still approximately 1968 as Michael (Jonathan Hammond) starts his warm-up with a little Judy at Carnegie Hall playing full blast on the record player. Just as the first guest is scheduled to arrive, Michael's college roommate Alan (Kevin Isola) is in town from DC, very upset, calls up and invites himself over. As the guests begin to arrive, Michael begs them to act "normal" when Alan appears and the spewing of self-hate begins. If you need a plot summary and a history of the show, click here.
Playing now as a period piece (to a certain extent), everyone at the party has been in therapy over his own issues with homosexuality. The resulting self-hate is the usual by-product from a time when the American Psychiatric Association still regarded homosexuality as a mental illness.
Mr. Cummings has assembled an attractive and, for the most part, very able cast to tell this tale of bitchy queens who care for each other, but hate themselves. The characters cover the gamut of stereotypes of the day (hell, of today for that matter), from the bitter, unattractive, Jewish Harold (Jon Levenson), to his birthday present, the twinkie hustler known only as Cowboy (Aaron Sharff), from the swishy, nelly Emory (John Wellman) to the divorced bisexual Hank (Graham Rowat).
Mr. Hammond's Michael gives us an early peek into his neurotic tendencies, changing his sweater three times to fussing over who didn't eat the cracked crab leg hors d'oeuvres. There's a lot more to work with in this character than his recent pared down role of Harry Houdini in "Ragtime" from last year. He carries Michael's baggage very well.
As Bernard, the token black man, Kevyn Morrow walks the fine line between camp and "straight acting." Mr. Wellman's Emory moves and croons perfectly, but with the close viewing proximity in the setting, I never saw the truth of it in his eyes. As the unwitting guest, Alan, Mr. Isolda plays it a little passively, perhaps to remain ambiguous through the suspicions and accusations that ensue. Not much falls into gray in this play, so the ambiguity didn't always work for me. The very handsome Christopher Innvar's Larry never exuded the "polyamorous-ness" of his role. Mr. Sharff's Cowboy was little more than a twink out of his element, in more ways than one.
Mr. Cummings is to be commended for his work. The pace is brisk, a vital requirement since the two hours are passed without intermission. He seems to have focused on the stronger actors, rather than bringing up the weaker ones. Still, it's a full ride of emotion in one evening.
The show runs through March 14. If you haven't seen it before, you shouldn't miss it.