Tuesday 6 October 2020

Streaming on Netflix - David Hare is enthralled by a new production of Mart Crowley's THE BOYS IN THE BAND (Prod: Ryan Murphy, Dir: Joe Mantello, USA, 2020)

Mart Crowley (front) and cast, The Boys in the Band, (2020)

Mart Crowley died just weeks ago, sadly before the debut of this show on Netflix September 30. Here above he heads the marvelous cast shot for the debut of the Ryan Murphy produced/Joe Mantello directed 2020 revival of The Boys in the Band. Crowley's ground breaking play first debuted off-Broadway in late 1968 and was so successful it shifted only weeks later to Broadway and Beyond. 


I have nothing but praise and admiration and enormous respect for the new movie and its cast and crew, which came as a bigger shock to me than perhaps to many others.


This is something very difficult for me to say but say it I will. Time has not been unkind nor withering to this milestone from the late 60s, as I had so grimly anticipated. Instead the passing of time which involved itself with so many necessary liberations in all our queer lives has given rise to what I have to call a new liberated homosexual and queer identity, at least in the west.


The kind of maudlin freak show tone of William Friedkin's completely awful 1970 film taken from the original Broadway production was always a picture I would rather cross the road than ever watch again. My memories of the original 1969 Sydney stage production by the late John Tasker were far more positive and joyful, if only perhaps for the fact we were all living through this massive period of change in Australia, both the cast, the crew and the audiences, down to the last caring, nervous boy's bewildered mother - a better than most way for a lot of us to come out back then. 


It opened in Sydney with great alacrity and did boffo for several years, in the process shattering the crucifying Irish Catholic fascist mafia of the NSW police and their self-appointed role of moral guardians for the state. Tasker's production was the first to deliver speech ringing with “fucks" and "cunts" and god knows, f....ts, k...kes and n....ers, to say nothing of the direct and unstinting portrayal of gay life. 


Fifty-two years later is enough time to have given old and new audiences today this completely flawless new all gay cast. Some, including gay observers question the necessity, if any for making the production a totally in-house gay event. The point I believe is simply that they now COULD. So they did. And what this delivers is a revelation, not least for the tone of the play, literally a rebirthing of Crowley's original with all its often self-deprecating sentimentality, now a totally precise adaptation down to the last vowel and exclamation point and throwaway ("Who do you have to fuck to get a drink around here".) 


The sheer authenticity of the players, and their much younger energy and optimism (than me and so many of us) gives the show a less hardened, less cynical old queen stance. I feel like the characters are brand new. I found myself choking up on line after line of dialogue, all of it almost perfectly memorized by my old self, now being read in some seemingly new and spontaneous way by a cast so eminently skilled and eminently at home with the material. Not once did I squirm with distaste at what used to seem to me frequent bursts of Michael's self-loathing, or what we felt then was stereotyping. 


Only a year later we saw the drag queens in Christopher Street take the lead in fighting back the mob and the bent cops. So much for our own internalized homophobia back then. Murphy’s and Mantello’s production delivers this great work with absolute respect and love. I could not imagine a better realization of The Boys in the Band


If you’ve had a fortunate life, like me, there are always things along the way that changed it, inexorably. The Boys in the Band is one of those things that changed my life. 


Vale Mart Crowley.

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