New York City shifts and changes before our eyes; it is and never will be the same again. My understanding of the grande dame was inspired by a summer of drama school and theatre visits. Like any city of this magnitude, New York City must have changed tremendously since my visit, reinventing itself over and over again. So it is with splashes of romanticism that I think back on my Broadway outings.
The Netflix film The Boys in the Band was released on September, 30th 2020. It is adapted from the 1968 play of the same title by Mart Crowley. The filmmakers openly work with its theatrical roots and add elegant aspects of filmmaking to the intricacies of the original play. Naturally, there are moments in both film and theatre that may not have lent themselves to adaptation. Yet, the film forms language, plot, and pace into a hybrid and somehow it works.
The Boys in the Band is infused with the characters’ language and conversations. Words speak louder than action – emotions and thoughts are implied in specific language and tonal shifts. Language of this specificity is perfect ground for theatre and an unusual challenge for a film. And yet the intimacy of the screen allows for subtle actions and silences which would have gone unnoticed on a stage.
What we end up watching are performances layered with precision, by a cast who take on their respective roles of the 2018 Broadway production: Jim Parsons as Michael, Zachary Quinto as Harold, Matt Bomer as Donald, Andrew Rannells as Larry, Charlie Carver as Cowboy, Robin de Jesús as Emory, Brian Hutchison as Alan, Michael Benjamin Washington as Bernard and Tuc Watkins as Hank.
Their characters’ joy and pain jump off the screen in ways unique to the film experience, yet the pace of the story remains largely theatrical. Although it may be slow compared to the pace of commercial movies. I fidgeted and shifted in my seat until I realized that I needed to stay with them a little longer. I forgot to give their storylines the space I would have granted to a play.
Michael, Harold, Donald, Larry, Cowboy, Emory, Alan, Bernard, and Hank cannot untangle themselves from the repressive tissue of the 60’s. Language in the gay community of 60’s New York City was particular. It had to be. A lot had to be implied and nothing was to be revealed. It was a language of shadows women and men rarely stepped out of. When they did, it came with imminent danger to their lives.
Yet The Boys in the Band leaves me hopeful, as a theatre and film brat, and as someone who loves whoever she wants. Being open about its roots in theatre, the film inspires us to be open about who we are. Love and freedom of expression have come a long way, paved by the courage of those who came before us. And when prompted to defend both love and the freedom of expression we can be courageous, too. We will be.
These are unprecedented times where we can not go to the theatre. Where instead we fill our lives with digital experiences and consume films from the comforts and constraints of our homes. The Boys in the Band offers a release by way of its beautifully shot and directed hybrid with cinematic production design and an ensemble of outstanding actors. And in all its glory it pays homage to the theatre. Be a little patient, give it your theatergoer’s attention and it will take your breath away.
THE BOYS IN THE BAND
story / Mel Piper