"The Boys in the Band" has arrived at Back Alley Theatre more or less simultaneously with the word that Masters and Johnson have found homosexuals to be regular people.
When Mart Crowley wrote "The Boys in the Band" 12 years ago, he probably thought he was saying the same thing. Look at the homosexuals, the play seems to say. If you tickle them, do they not laugh? If you poison them, do they not die? And if you wrong them, shall they not revenge?
In the first act of Crowley's play, they tickle each other with a dancing, driving wit, and we laugh. The second act, however, drips with psychological poison and revenge. In the end, these homosexuals appear to be a forlorn and wretched lot.
The play hardly touches on any aspect of its character's personalities other than their homosexuality, and the message conveyed-that most homosexuals are clowns into barely manage to hide the tears behind their painted smiles-is not likely to win a stamp of approval from gay militants. But in its less operatic moments, "The Boys in the Band" does make its passions seem authentic and troubling.
The most troubled character is Michael, host of a birthday party for Harold. Some of his self-analysis is turgid going, and in the end he is a turgid character. But he does have a quick tongue, and with the arrival of each new guest the party picks up. The play's final tension is caused by the unexpected arrival of a straight friend of Michael's from college. Michael forces his friends to participate in a psychological game suspiciously like those in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Fredric Lee's production at Back Alley updates the decor and costumes to the present. The cast is erratic, but Joe Kelly is a feisty little fighter in a role which could be lethally prissy in lesser hands. The funnier characters are better written than their more sober brothers, and Kelly and Fredy Alves take the laughs and run.