by Beki Pineda

THE BOYS IN THE BAND – Written by Matt Crowley; Directed by Bernie Cardell. Produced by Vintage Theatre Productions (1468 Dayton, Aurora) through May 26. Tickets available at 303-856-7830 or vintagetheatre.com.

The original production of THE BOYS IN THE BAND was only supposed to run for a long weekend in April of 1968 as a showcase production for this new groundbreaking script. Needless to say it was a controversial success and moved quickly to Off-Broadway where it played for nearly two years. Controversial for its first portrayal of gay life in a public way – without judgement and unapologetically which was viewed by some as brave while others called the characters sad and pathetic. There was still such a stigma to being gay at that time that the homosexual members of the original cast did not come out until long after the play had closed. No matter your view, it does mark a point in the history of gay life in America which was followed closely a year later in June of 1969 by the Stonewall Riots of Greenwich Village, another milestone of gay history. Stonewall was a popular gay bar that was routinely raided by the NYPD police until activists stood up and rebelled against this example of discrimination. This marked the beginning of anti-discrimination laws being passed and the first Gay Pride Parade in 1970.

The downside of this history is that the rebellion against monogamy (one of the themes in BOYS IN THE BAND) among partners led to the AIDS virus arriving in America in the late 70’s and early 80’s with a bang. A modern audience sitting and watching the current production cannot help but wonder what will happen to these conflicted young men in the next few years. Crowley, the playwright, tried to answer those questions with a sequel – THE MEN FROM THE BOYS – written 35 years after the original. The same ‘boys’ were gathering in this one for a memorial for one of their number who had succumbed to cancer. We find that they had remained the same bitchy self-loathing group, apparently overlooking the personal, political and social change that had happened around them in those 35 years.

Crowley’s original play however reflects a cross-section of the gay population in caustically funny insightful performances. There is Michael (Dakota Hill), the host of the birthday party, who displays a capacity for love, a great deal of conflict between his Catholic self and his gay lifestyle, and a deep seated but unexplained anger. Next we meet Donald (Frankie Millington), Michael’s some-time lover who has moved out of NY to escape the lifestyle. He is a calming presence, a mediator between the belligerent party crowd and shows genuine affection and care for Michael. Next arrives Emory (Andy Nuanhmgam), a preening prancing decorator who represents the unknowing public’s persona of a gay man. He lives up to this perception with a limp wrist swishy portrayal of a man whose vulnerability only comes to light during his “phone call.” Hank (Troy Lakey) and Larry (Archie Archuleta) are a couple in turmoil. While there is genuine affection between Hank, a man who has left his wife and family to be with Larry and who registers a zero on the “swish odometer” (as Oprah says), and Larry, it is Larry’s monogamy challenged lifestyle that causes the rift between the two. Larry believes the gay life is predicated on sexual freedom and rebels against being limited to one partner. I can see where that would be a problem. The last expected guest is Bernard (Quincy Harris), a soft-spoken gentle man who both fits in and seems out of place at the same time. His phone call during the game they play later is one of the sweetest, most heartbreaking moments in the whole play. We also, of course, have to include the guest of honor who arrives late and grandly for his birthday celebration. Harold (Bobby Bennett) is the Oscar Wilde of this gathering, the slightly older, more wiser, more experienced, more self-involved character who everyone looks to for guidance in the coolness factor. His pronouncements are profound; his opinions gold; his bullshit immeasurable.

But we also have two unannounced guests at the party. Emory has rented a young male prostitute as a “gift” for Harold. Cowboy (Jacob Stephenson) seems an innocent, not-too-bright boy but still manages to get in his fair share of good lines. When asked by one of the guests, “What do you do?” he answers, “My best” in a sweetly seductive manner. The last guest to the party is the most unwelcome. This would be Alan (Jayce Johnson), Michael’s old college roommate whom he always suspected of being a closeted gay. Alan had called saying he wanted to come over because he had something he had to talk to Michael about – but then called to cancel. Then showed up at the door any way. His presence has a dampening impact on the party as the other guests are uncomfortable with a ‘straight’ in their midst. His presence also provides the match that sets a lot of emotions aflame.

And there you have the set up for what could become the party of the year. The evening is full of self-deprecating humor, laugh-out-loud one-liners, and pithy observations on everything from food to politics to other people. This is a slice-of-life drama that results in change (not necessarily growth) for a couple of the characters but, for the most part, reflects what one suspects is just one in a long line of similar evenings for this group of friends (using the word loosely). After all, most of them are still together 35 years later.

The set is an absolutely “I could live here” beautiful loft apartment you’d be paying major bucks to live in in New York now. Lucky Michael!! Designed by Michael Grittner, beautifully dressed by Ryan Walkoviak with colorful furniture and wall adornment, built by Jeff Jesmer and Don Fuller, and painted by Julie Lemieux, their joint effort will take your breath away as you walk into the theatre. Kudos to the backstage cooks as this cast eats all the way through the show. The subtle deco lighting (designed by Kevin Taylor) adds greatly to the ambiance of the room.

Most gays these days – thank goodness – are more nonchalant about their lifestyle, more open about their feelings, and more honest in their relationships. But this is an apparently authentic reflection of where they started. So for a historical hysterical evening of meaningful theatre, this is your ticket.

A WOW factor of 8.5!!