The Boys In The Band, the latest offering from Out Front on Main.  As usual for this theater, this show is way more than you expect. It takes place in 1968, at a time when being gay is still unacceptable by society.  As I sat there watching this play, I realized that even though we have come a long way with gay rights and acceptance, I can’t help but wonder if the attitude projected from this cast is still prevalent today for many of our gay and lesbian community. I mean, not everyone is comfortable with it. Some act as though they are, but still feel uncomfortable around openly gay people. A lot of people tend to single out the gay people in their lives. Not meaning to, of course. I never really thought much of this until I observed some my gay son’s friends. They refer to him as their ’gay’ friend, not just their friend, which I find odd. You wouldn’t hear these same people calling their other friends their ‘fat’ friends, their ‘straight’ friends, or their ’ugly’ or ‘dumb’ friends, so why the tag? I know it isn’t meant to be harmful, just from a parent standpoint no one wants their offspring treated like a show pony.  I have never questioned anyone about this, so it may not be a big deal to anyone.  I suppose it could be flattering, but when you are taking a stance for equality, this seems like a step in the wrong direction.
Now that I have expressed a random opinion, I shall offer another opinion. One of this beautifully directed play. Richard Browder is truly a visionary. He is a multi talented man who brings a lot of flair to his adaption of Boys. He also gives a flawless and moving performance as Bernard, a compassionate and loving friend, who has even more reason to live in secrecy than the other cast members, he is not only gay, he is black. In 1968, that alone was difficult enough.
As I sat there waiting for the show to start I couldn’t help but notice the set.  Out Front is a small intimate venue, but that set was simply amazing.  Designed by Ryan Vogel, who also plays Hank, the married guy, who has an extra door on his closet. Imagine being on the down low in 1968?
The set is two levels and very accurately decorated for a tasteful apartment of a fairy back in the day. He gets all the details right and maximizes the stage beautifully, as well as his character. His talent is evident at Out Front, whether it is on stage, backstage, or somewhere in between.
The setting is a Birthday dinner for Harold, played by the talented and versatile Peter Depp. Some of you may know him from the Sundance reality show, Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, or perhaps his comedy shows. I said he was versatile! He does a brilliant job with this character.
The party is given by Michael, played with some spunk by Thomas Prunier. This is my first time seeing him on stage, except in drag for a benefit show (which was beautiful and his song brought tears to my eyes) a few months back. His character has gone through some recent transformations and he struggles with his sobriety and as the show unfolds you realize that he, along with everyone in the cast has some baggage.  He is obviously trying to buy happiness, even though he can’t really afford it. His character seems to be trying to escape his own skin. Not really the gay part, just the realization that he simply wants to be happy and don’t know how. As the show progresses, one sees why he doesn’t need to consume alcohol, He’s quite a nasty drunk. There’s one in every crowd, right?
Next we meet Donald, played by Blair Thompson. He is in a relationship with Michael. He moved away from the city and come in on weekends for therapy sessions. He is obviously as addicted to therapy as he seems to be of booze. He spends a lot of the show knocking back drinks, but always keeps his cool. I guess the therapy, or the alcohol, is working. This is my first time seeing Thompson, and I was very impressed with the cool, yet pensive adaption of Donald. He seems to be running from himself as well. He self medicates quite well and successfully.
Enter Emory, played by none other than George Manus Jr. He is the flamboyant one. Very daring and risqué for the time, He makes no excuses and feels very comfortable with whom he is, or so it seems.  You know when George steps onto the other side of the stage, as an actor, it has to be a role he is passionate about. We rarely get to see him acting instead of directing and it is a true pleasure. He owns this part and delivers a fun and flirty performance as Emory. He is best friends with Bernard, who understands Emory like no one else. Everybody has to have a rock and Bernard lovingly plays the role for Emory.
As the guests arrive, we get to meet the rest of the boys.  Larry, played expertly by Asa Armbrister, is Hanks boyfriend.  He is a newcomer to Out Front, who I hope to see more of. His talent is second to none and plays the role of Larry with just the right amount of assurance. He is probably the least messed up of the entire cast of characters. Sure, he has a hard time being faithful, but he has a firm grasp on who he is and makes no excuses.  Very modern for 1968, regardless of the sexual orientation.
Next we get to meet Cowboy, played by Zach Parker. He is a prostitute bought by Emory for Harold, the birthday boy. I suppose being a gay prostitute back in 1968 was a very risky occupation.  Parker does a great job with this role. It could be a demeaning one if you allowed it to. Well, he most certainly does not allow it, not even for a minute. He doesn’t have a lot of speaking roles, but he keeps you in stitches with the ones he has. His expressions make you laugh out loud at times. Michael tries his best to shut him down and keep him in his place, as a present, not a guest, but the flamboyance sort of collides at times, providing some of the most memorable and  funny moments in the play.
Perhaps the most confusing role is that of Alan, played  by Patrick Goedicke.  He is an old acquaintance of Michael’s who is in town and calls him upset, wanting to stop by. Goedicke is a supportive of Out Front, but this is the first time he has played a role there. He has a presence that cannot be ignored. He has a very defined face with daunting eyes. He delivers a top notch performance as Alan, who is obviously distraught about something; you just never really know what. The purpose of his visit can be interpreted many different ways.  I will leave my opinion out here, and let you draw your own conclusion, which I think was the intention of Crowley when he wrote this very daring work. There is an altercation, changing the mood of the evening to a more serious and sort of dark reality.
As the evening unfolds, we get to glimpse into the lives of these men, who are just trying to live their lives, like everybody else. We realize that life was very different then for gay people. They simply cannot go to a restaurant and celebrate openly and casually, as can be done now. This play takes you back to a different time, one filled with promise for our country and all of its citizens, well almost all of its citizens. These guys are still having to hide and lie just to survive.  I am glad Out Front decided to do this. We need to be reminded of how things were, and unfortunately, still are for many people. I urge you to see this beautiful work. It highlights the struggle of the gay community and allows you to see how far we have come as a society. We still got a ways to go, but with a few reminders like this, you can’t help but appreciate the Boys In The Band, the ones who paved the way.
Congratulations to all of the people involved with this important production. You all did a phenomenal job and I walked away from this with a new perspective.  As I mentioned before, I am the parent of a gay son, and I worry frequently about his safety and well being, considering the attitude some have about gay people.  We cannot forget Matthew Sheppard and others like him who have been victimized in today’s society simply for being gay. We, or at least I, have never thought about the pioneers of the gay rights movement and the struggles they must have had. In 1968, what happened to Sheppard would have been a crime, sure, but it would not have stirred the outrage it does in the present time, unfortunately. There would have been the feeling that it was somehow justified.  We owe a lot to these folks, and this production celebrates them. Thank you, Out Front, for doing what you do best; making us think with you edgy and provocative theater.–Andie Boyd