‘The Boys in the Band’ runs through Aug. 11 at the Booth Theatre. 222 W. 45th St., boysintheband.com.
Is it too late to nominate “The Boys in the Band” for this year’s Tony Award for best revival of a play? This starry 50th anniversary revival of Mart Crowley’s 1968 drama has a strange sense of timing, beginning previews right after the Tony nominations were announced and officially opening right before the Tony Awards are to be held.
“The Boys in the Band” was the first American drama about openly gay men to achieve major commercial success, creating a pathway for plays like “Torch Song Trilogy” and “Angels in America,” as well as musicals like “Falsettos” and “Fun Home.”
I’ll admit that I was skeptical when the production was originally announced. Based on a recent Off-Broadway revival, I found the play to be lacking in plot, superficial in characterization and outright depressing.
But thanks to spot-on direction by Joe Mantello (“Three Tall Women,” “An Act of God,” “Blackbird”) and rich performances by the nine-member all-male cast — including Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells and Robin De Jesús — “The Boys in the Band” proves to be not just a historic artifact, but a witty, gripping and surprising drama that is just as enjoyable as it is menacing (showing influences of Edward Albee and Harold Pinter).
Built around a simple premise, the play is set at the sleek Upper East Side apartment of Michael (Parsons, in a superb performance that tracks the self-deprecating character’s heightened vulnerability and recklessness), who has invited his pals over for Harold’s (Quinto, hilariously guarded and sarcastic) birthday party.
Two surprise guests arrive: a young hustler (Charlie Carver) who has been hired for the evening as a gag, and Michael’s ostensibly heterosexual college roommate Alan (Brian Hutchison), who is in the midst of an unexplained personal crisis.
The party culminates in a tense Truth or Dare-style telephone game that leads to a series of uncomfortable confessions.
Like the musical “Hair,” “The Boys in the Band” is very much a product of its time. Had it premiered just a year later following the Stonewall Riots, Crowley may have made his characters more defiant and less self-loathing in nature. Yet even if the play is dated and its shock value has worn off, as this crowd-pleasing revival demonstrates, it can still be a powerful piece of theater.