The Boys In The Band & Me

Editorial • Dan MacKay • 2020-03-09

I connected with Boys In The Band deeply from the very beginning. When I saw the 1970 film as a teen, I saw the first depiction of a bunch of gay men leading sort of normal lives. It took me decades to realize that I hadn't seen anything even remotely normal, and in hindsight I see it as a catalog of gay stereotypes - perhaps Crowley thought this was a complete catalog? For a long time I did. So one way I see the play is as a snapshot, of Crowley saying, "This is what things are like right now" and preserving those "types" forever, for posterity.

The nine were: Hank: the straight-acting used-to-be-married guy who models a relationship on straight monogamy. Alan: the guy you had sex with in university but is now straight (or is he?) Bernard: not too messed up - until he starts thinking about the boy in the family that used to own his family. Cowboy: dumb-as-a-stick Times Square hustler. Michael and Harold: severely neurotic non-Jew and Jew, able to function sort of normally only with substantial quantities of booze and pills. Emory: extremely effeminate clowny drag queen. Donald: also neurotic, and Larry, in a relationship with Hank... except for the monogamy.

The action is written in the hyper-emotional Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf / Glass Menagerie style... but the play sank into my young personality so deeply it took decades for me to realize that these were not ordinary interactions at an ordinary birthday party.

But that's not where the connection ends. It turns out that everyone who has the same love for the play, would be very good lifetime friends. Two, -- Gabe and Scott MacNeil, have passed, but the bonding that we experienced over that film was deep and powerful and for the others who like it, we share something that is now in our blood and bones.

By a weird coincidence, on March 9, 2010, exactly ten years ago to the day before Mart Crowley's death at age 84, Gabe and I "presented" Boys In The Band to a bunch of 20-somethings at the Roberts Street Social Centre as part of the "Dinner and A Movie" program. We wanted to be able to answer any question about it so to prepare, we spent weeks watching the movie, over and over and over, stopping at every clip and discussing the dialog, the set, the food, the costumes, the acting. I'd never dived so deeply into a work before and it was profoundly rewarding to take apart this intricate mechanism. For the dinner part, we served the same food and drink as in the film, at the same times that the characters get it, including the blender drink, a “Blue Whale” (“Oh Mary! Don’t ask!”) -- blue curacao, rum and pineapple juice, lasagna, salad, birthday cake.

Thank you, Mart Crowley, for creating this beautiful, stilted, overdone period piece that is now part of me.

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