Wasatch Theatre Company presents a production of The Boys in the Band, a sharp, unrelenting play about homosexuality in the 1960s — prior to the Stonewall Riots, prior to the warrant of HIV/AIDS. During that time the climate surrounding homosexuality was ominous with homophobia, but what playwright Matt Crowley explored in this play, what some would say, was internal homophobia.
The play is set in 1968. In an apartment in New York City’s Upper East Side, the action concerns nine acquaintances who converge for the birthday of Harold (Alexis Baigue), who is turning 30 (ah, a coming-of-troll age story, the gay man’s menopausal years). Throwing the bash is Michael (Eric McGraw), a man of fierce self loathing and an alcoholic undergoing psychoanalysis. Joining them is Bernard (Brien Jones), a black man not only facing homophobia but racism, a feat harder to overcome due to his attraction to a wealthy white man; Larry and Hank (Richard Wall and Jay Cates, respectively), a couple living together despite having differing views on the issue of monogamy; Emory (Bryan Glick), a childish and flamboyant “queen;” and Donald (Michael Cox), also adamantly deferring acceptance of his homosexual lifestyle.
Also stirred into the mix is a male prostitue called Cowboy (Andrew Abbott), who is a “present” for Harold, and Alan (Daniel Ogden), a straight college buddy of Michael’s whose sexuality becomes more and more questionable throughout the evening.
Director Gail McCullough said, “[The play] has been compared to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which was scathing but also a very contemporary piece of theatre. I think it was just what was happening at the time — whether it was women and men or men and men — there were a lot of changes in terms of relationships and what people felt there part in a relationship was. I think everybody in the ’60s, especially young people, were beginning to examine stereotypes and saying ‘well, is this really true?’”
When I recently sat down with Gail for this interview, I was slightly unprepared when the entire cast sat down with us. A row of nine chairs occupied by handsome, articulate and intelligent actors. I first felt like a voodoo-size doll of Oprah, and as the interview progressed I realized the significance of the play (for me) just by sharing approximately 30 minutes with a group of mostly gay acquaintances. Not that it was a painful experience, far from it. In fact, it seemed they had a great respect for each other and even playfully joked with each other.
“I think we’ve become really close as a cast and it’s taken a lot of sex to get there,” Cox quipped.
The following question was responded to by each actor. However, though each of them shared personal and intriguing responses, I was alloted only so much space for the article, so I apologize to those whose responses have been excluded.
TONY HOBDAY: How much of you personally is similar to the charcter you portray?
ALEXIS BAIGUE: I think most of my friends would kindly say I’m disimilar to Harold in that I’m a goyish Mormon from Utah and he’s an ugly pockmarked Jew fairy … well fairy we have in common. I like to behave, most of the time, differently than this character in the play. But when I read it I certainly saw a great deal of myself in the character.
BRIEN JONES: For me the character is so unlike me. It was hard when I read the script because there’s real harsh racism in it. It’s been difficult for me to be passive and to listen to the language that’s so hard and ugly. To not have a release or retaliation … I mean there is a little bit with my character, Bernard, but he really seems to absorb what is directed at him, which is not like me. Gail and I have had long sobbing conversations about how I adjust my own perspective to that of the character. It was difficult to balance that out.
BRYAN GLICK: I play the true queen of the show, if there is one. [The cast laughs.] He’s a man who’s in his mid-30s and arguably the most immature person at the party. I wanted to play Emory because it was an opportunity to see how far I could push myself with my own notions of my sexual orientation. I’m definitely nelly to a certain degree but not nearly as far out there as he is. Realistically, there’s not a lot of his backstory mentioned and I think that kind of implies that he disappeared when he was 17 and mentally, he stopped growing up.
JAY CATES: My character Hank is a guy trying to find monogamy and wants to raise a family. I feel similar to the character because I have struggled like that to keep a relationship monogamous. It’s almost unrealisitc in the gay world if you ask me. I mean you can disagree with that, but in my experience it’s been really hard, so I think were still facing that same issue.
DANIEL OGDEN: I feel very similar to Alan. I’m in the closet [The cast laughs.} I’m a lawyer. [More laughter.] And I’m always sort of getting crushes on guys who like to play tennis. I’m also very sarcastic.
ALEXIS: And don’t forget about the alcoholism.
DANIEL: Oh yeah, the liver damage.
RICHARD WALL: I have some similarities to Larry. He’s a commercial artist, and I feel to some degree that I have an artistic eye. But there are also disimilarities considering that I’m a heterosexual in a monogamous relationship. But that’s no reason not to try and build the character as realistically as possible and fill in the blanks with as many of my own personal experiences as possible.
The Boys in the Band are “a band of outsiders — a secret little group” that face a time of distinct homophobia that “corrupts society but also corrupts gay people themselves.”
“What’s really great about this play is that in the ’60s there was this sort of absurdist tradition where everything didn’t have to make sense,” said Eric McGraw. “So there are little tangents that happen. [Not everything] is fully explained so it really opens the audience’s imagination. Nothing is clear-cut.”
Daniel Ogden added, “Everyone shoud come see this play. You’re gonna laugh, you’re gonna cry, you’re going to be offended.” Q
The Boys in the Band opens Jan. 15 and runs Thurs.-Sat. through Jan. 31, Studio Theatre, Rose Wagner Center. Tickets $15, 355-ARTS or arttix.org.