A bleak world pre-Stonewall

Issue 

The Boys in the Band
Directed by Kevin Jackson
New Theatre, Newtown, until March 19. $16/11
Reviewed by Tom Flanagan

The Boys in the Band is a play dealing with gay issues that dates from the pre-Stonewall era. First performed in New York in April 1968, it preceded the riots at New York's Stonewall Inn by 14 months. These riots changed the face of gay and lesbian politics: a movement dominated by "respectable" figures politely seeking acceptance became transformed into one militantly demanding and working towards liberation.

Michael, one of six gay men together for a birthday party, has to deal with an unexpected visit by an old college friend who doesn't know that Michael is gay. While there are some hilarious moments, the issue of secrecy and denial of gay sexuality in a society that affirms only heterosexuality is an important and serious theme.

The Boys in the Band is a powerful and moving play, but its impact is limited by its pre-Stonewall perspectives. It delves into the personal lives of its characters with great sensitivity, but its outlook on reality is bleak.

Without the revolutionary enthusiasm of the post-Stonewall gay militants, without a perspective of changing repressive social and political circumstances, the play can only dwell on the circumstances of its characters and their attempts to make sense of their lives in the world as they find it.

The hope it offers is of human solidarity and understanding between gay men in dealing with the difficult situations they find themselves in. If the play had been written a few years later, it could also have offered a credible perspective of personal liberation through overcoming those oppressive circumstances, through changing the world.

One thing that The Boys in the Band should remind us of is that while playwright Mark Crowley can be excused for not foreseeing the possibilities that were opened up by the revolutionary turn of the gay and lesbian movement, we can't be excused for turning our backs on what is now part of our history.

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