The Boys in the Band

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

27/01/2006 - 18/02/2006

Production Details

By Mart Crowley
Directed by Jonathon Hendry

Seven known homosexuals and two very unexpected guests gather to commiserate the passing of time for everyone’s favourite frind and enemy, Harold. As Michael’s finger hovers on the button to self-destruct, cracked crab appetizer will be ignored, games will be played and the truth will be outed.

We celebrate the coruscating and hilarious verbal pyrotechnics of a group of men forced to live on the fringe of a society not quite ready for liberation. Gripping revelations, annihilating wit, fidelity, pride, fraternal destruction and friendship.

Stephen Butterworth
Shane Bosher
Edwin Wright
Simon London
Heath Jones
Craig Hall
Edward Peni
Fasitua Amosa
Nathan Whittaker

Set designer Ross Gibbs

Theatre ,

2 hrs incl. interval

Compelling revival

Review by John Smythe 03rd Feb 2006

Last year Auckland’s Silo Theatre brought Clare Boothe Luce’s The Women to Downstage. This year they redress the gender-balance with Mart Crowley’s all-male late-1960s The Boys in the Band. Products of the mid-1930s and late 1960s respectively, both plays capture contemporary states of sexual being in New York.

By way of giving modern resonance to what have become period plays, both casts were dressed by New Zealand fashion designers, the Boys by Justine Hunter for Zambesi. But both remain very much of their time.

Opening over a year before the famous NYC Stonewall Inn uprising (June 1969) that spawned the Gay Pride movement, The Boys in the Band was at first celebrated then vilified by gay activists.

For blowing the deflecting mirror off the closet and depicting gay men as real, varied and complex, as well as witty, bitchy and savagely entertaining, the play won approval and popular success, running for over 1000 performances off-Broadway. Later it was criticised for stereotyping the self-loathing, flamboyant and promiscuous aspects of gay subculture.

Fortunately revivals such as this, splendidly cast and directed by Jonathon Hendry, transcend the bizarre demands of PC propagandists who want plays to idealise life. Compelling socio-political points are made by telling it like it was at the time for these particular flawed individuals.

As Michael, who is throwing a birthday party for Harold, Stephen Butterworth masters with great panache vast tracts of expositional and often self-obsessed dialogue peppered with quotes from Bette Davis movies. His guilt-edged self-loathing shows up in his failure to resist both Catholicism and alcoholism, and in lines like, "Show me a happy homosexual and I will show you a gay corpse."

Shane Bosher’s Jewish and rapier-witted Harold despises his pock-marked physical self, although he understands from his mother’s rabbi that his soul is "an absolute knockout."

As the married-with-children but bisexual and would-be monogamous Hank, and the freedom-loving (i.e. promiscuous) Larry, Edwin Wright and Simon London ground the play in a powerful reality. Likewise Heath Jones’ chronically conflicted Donald and Craig Hall’s dangerously in denial Alan, Michael’s ex-college roommate.

Edward Peni’s flamboyant Emory (who originated the line, "Who do you have to fuck to get a drink around here?") and Fasitua Amosa’s stolid Bernard (written as the Afro-American son of a Southern housemaid) both command respect. And Nathan Whittaker makes the unsophisticated "Midnight Cowboy" – Emory’s singing telegram gift for Harold – an effective butt for Michael cruelty.

In Ross Gibbs’ white-furnished set, its long table thrusting deep into Downstage’s flexible space, director Hendry ensures the key notes are struck and the focus stays tight while the pace is well modulated.


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Viciously funny

Review by Lynn Freeman 01st Feb 2006

Auckland’s Silo theatre is staging something of a theatrical takeover of the Capital. Two Chapman Tripp award winning shows last year (The Women and Bash) and this year it starts Downstage’s 2006 programme with The Boys in the Band.  The play is a few decades old and, like The Women, shows its age.  The production, though, is stylish and viciously funny as only eight screaming queens and one ‘straighter than straight’ guy together and drunk in one room, could be.

The story – Michael is hosing a birthday party for Harold, and into the maelstrom of gayness comes Michael’s old straight college buddy, Alan.  Alan has a secret which Michael is determined to make him disclose and so the evening disintegrates into nasty game playing in which more than one of the party are forced to face their demons.  

Two of the cast really carry the play, and the roles could have been written for them.  As the conflicted Michael, brought up by his mother to be effeminate and essentially unequipped for life in the real world, Stephen Butterworth is one moment a victim and the next an emotional blackmailer.  Shane Bosher, meanwhile, has few lines but each one is as show stopper as the menacing, ugly and pockmarked Jew fairy, Harold.  Basher and Harold are a formidable team.  Edwin Wright is another standout as the gentle hearted Hank who’s hopelessly in love with the free spirited Larry, played with not quite enough conviction by Simon London.  Edward Peni camps it up divinely as Emery.

Nine in a cast is a lot for a playwright to write for and Mark Crowley does better by some than others, in fact at least three of the characters are close to redundant.  The script is also littered with American references, old ones at that, which sail over the heads of most in the audience.  The first half hour could do with a good trimming, but once the party picks up it’s all on. 

Hendry keeps his cast on their toes, as he should, and the set by Ross Gibb’s looks fantastic, though there are some sightline issues for parts of the audience with the thrust stage layout. 


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Classy ensemble playing

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 30th Jan 2006

Another play, another dinner party. This time lasagne, crab salad and a cake are on the menu, and like Circa’s Dinner, blood is briefly spilt amongst the bitchy putdowns, stingily funny one-liners and the emotional outbursts that make up the celebration dinner of The Boys in the Band, which the 32-year old birthday boy ironically describes as "Just another birthday party with the folks."

In a 2003 gay play The Last Sunday in June playwright Jonathan Tolins has a character ask what is a gay play and someone replies, "One with a bunch of gay guys in an apartment or a country house bitching and cracking jokes about what it means to be gay. All the characters are witty and touching as they laugh through the pain of being reviled." This is, of course, a reference to the granddaddy of them all, The Boys in the Band.

What is important about Mart Crowley’s play is that it was probably the first in mainstream theatre that was not about homosexuality but was a homosexual play in that, as a critic in 1968 wrote, "the homosexual way of life was taken for granted and uses this for a valid basis of human experience."

Jonathon Hendry’s sleekly mounted and brilliantly acted production of this 1968 off-Broadway play is yet another hit production from the resourceful Silo Theatre which brought us last year an older but no less slick, conventional and commercial American play, The Women, that was also full of fashionable clothes and a far too neat cross-section of stereotypes.

And into the wasp nest of the birthday party steps the stereotypical, the rigidly straight Alan, a confused Washington lawyer, who is looking up his old college friend, Michael, a Catholic riddled with guilt. There are also a cynical Jew, a black American, a butch type, a closet gay and a midnight cowboy who’s not remotely like anyone in Brokeback Mountain.

The script has not been updated in any way though the smartly appointed duplex in the East Fifties of pre-Aids 1960s Manhattan is coolly 21st century as are the hairstyles and the men’s clothes (Zambesi) which would surely win the approval of the five of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

The only anachronism is vinyl records being played on a turntable but what is surprising is that the humour is still very funny as the camp banter whizzes back and forth. I seem to remember in the film version the emotional scenes were lachrymose and overwrought. Despite being tastefully underplayed here, I tended to agree with Harold when he says after one of the too many highly charged personal revelations (they play a truth game) that he needed an insulin injection.

However, the acting is so good from the entire cast that it in the end it carries the day, with Shane Bosher as the mordant Harold and Stephen Butterworth as the host Michael giving outstanding performances without disturbing for a second the superb ensemble playing.

A very classy evening.


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