There were several moving speeches and moments in last night’s Tony ceremony, but I was especially moved to see Mart Crowley accept the award for best revival of a play. The original production of Boys in the Band opened in 1968, a year before Stonewall, and I can’t help but think it contributed to the energy of that time and place which boiled over into the rebellion.
The recognition must be a sweet triumph for Crowley, whose play very quickly became an object of scorn by the gay community. When I was coming of queer political age in the late 70s/early 80s, I learned that Boys in the Band was the thing to hate long before I ever read it, or saw the film adaptation. Described as self-loathing, reactionary, a minstrel show of stereotypes — all reductive, unfair criticism — it’s sort of the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the gay rights movement, another work that’s mischaracterized and reviled mostly, I suspect, by people who’ve never read it. Or seen it.
Boys in the Band is a play about shame, and it’s painful for us to admit that as queer people our identities are inextricably bound up with shame. But why? Our obsession with pride is an explicit reaction to shame. The fact that we can’t as a community acknowledge the importance of shame makes it nearly impossible to reckon with. What gives the movie its punch, even still, and what makes this new production so moving, is that those guys from 1968 are still us. We still grapple with all the same crap. We still live in a society that to a large extent hates us, wishes we were more like them, or would just go away. We still struggle mightily to love ourselves as we are.
That’s what I think, anyway.
This beautiful new production of Boys in the Band, its recognition as an important play, historically and still, and Matt Crowley on that stage with a Tony in his hands thanking the original cast members (many of whom did not survive the plague) made me very proud last night.