Thursday, July 23, 2015

"The Boys in the Band" - A period piece with laughter and venom

Mart Crowley's "The Boys in the Band" has not aged particularly well.  Aspects of the show seem contrived, and the self-loathing at the heart of the play is, hopefully, becoming a thing of the past.  Still, it's nice to see a production of the show from time to time, both to appreciate some of the humor that Crowley spins throughout the play, and to see how things have changed.

Lindenhurst, Long Island's Studio Theatre is currently producing a solid version of the show, which will run through this weekend.

Under the direction of David Dubin, Executive Artistic Director of the company, the show sparkles with Crowley's humor, and his underlying venom and pain. The play centers on a birthday party that Michael (Joe Marshall) is throwing for Harold (Michael Harrison Carlin).  The two are wary friends, each knowing way too much about the other and where all the bodies are hidden.  Also at the party are a host of other gay men in their early 40s - Donald (Jeff Greene), one of Michael's old friends, the flamboyant Emory (nimbly played by Ryan Nolin), couple Hank (Eugene Gamblin) and Larry (George Ghossn), Bernard (Josh Bellinger).  There is also a young hustler, Cowboy (Robbie Dema), Emory's birthday gift to Harold.

There is also an uninvited and unwelcome guest, Allan (Angelo DiBiase), Michael's old college friend.  A very straight (presumably) and conservative college friend; one who would not like being at a party with a bunch of gay men.

As expected, attempts to tone down the flamboyance of the party fail, and Allan's disgust leads to a fight.  Michael, who is an angry, bitter drunk (and who has been drinking since Allan's arrival), makes some revelations about Allan and forces the guests to play a mean-spirited party game, meant to lay bare all their secrets.

Nothing goes as planned, and needless to say, that's where the drama lies.

The cast is strong, though a bit older than the early 40s that Crowley envisioned.  Marshall is good with the witty line, though his timing is at points a little choppy.  Where he truly shines is in playing Michael's anger, bitterness and self-loathing.

Ryan Nolin seems to have a great time as the over-the-top Emory, and he plays him with finesse and heart.  He also has the most ease with Crowley's humor, dropping a bon mot or nasty line with a practiced nonchalance.  He also has the best exit of the show.  He is most often paired with Bellinger's Bernard and the two work well together.

Michael Harrison Carlin, who gets one of the best entrances, does well as Harold.  The way he plays with Harold's affectations and veneer of civility are fun to watch, as is his take-down of Michael.  Carlin also does well with Harold's few moments of shockingly vibrant anger.

Production elements are particularly well done, with Erick Creegan's excellent set and Lorrie DePellegrini's sound design.  And while there is no costume credit given in the program, the costumes are terrific, particularly Allan's conservative wear, Emory's bright floral summer outfit, and Harold's drapey purple ensemble.

Spoiler alert: One of the most fascinating parts of this production involves a bit of a nod to the fact that this is a period piece, and one that has earned its place in the gay rights movement.  The play begins with Michael, presumably in his late 80s, hearing a news report about the recent gay marriage decision.  Time rewinds somewhat, and he's hearing a report on ACT UP and the AIDS crisis.  Back and back time goes, until finally he's in the late '60s and the play begins.  This is an interesting idea, and I think it works nicely.

"The Boys in the Band" runs through July 26th.  If you are near Lindenhurst, it's worth a look.

"The Boys in the Band"
By Mart Crowley
Directed by David Dubin
Scenic and Lighting Design by Erick Creegan
Stage Management and Sound Design by Lorrie DePellegrini
Featuring: Joe Marshall, Josh Bellinger, Michael Harrison Carlin, Robbie Dema, Angelo DiBiase, Eugene Gamblin, George Ghossn, Jeff Greene, and Ryan Nolin

Studio Theatre
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, NY

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