During this last two weeks I have seen eleven plays–a personal record, I think. Among them were The Chilrden’s Hour and The Boys in the Band, presented in repertory by Portland’s defunkt theatre company.
Because I have wanted to see The Boys in the Band performed live for many years, I made a donation toward the support of its production, the first time I have done such a thing for a theatre organization. I assure you that it won’t be the last. Boys was performed in an actual living room, where the nine cast members were cheek by jowl with the twenty-one members of the audience arranged in folding chairs around the perimeter of the room. In such a setting you can feel the claustrophobia of the setting, as the crucible of Harold’s birthday party exerts its pressurized atmosphere on these closeted gay men in the year before the Stonewall Riots.
Many gay men and lesbians find this play distasteful and full of self-loathing, but I believe it rings true for its times. The columnist Dan Savage has said something to the effect that dumb gay people owe their right to be dumb to the brave souls like those depicted in Boys, because you didn’t survive in those days if you weren’t smarter than most people in the room.
The defunkt ensemble did a good job, not always erasing my impressions of the William Friedkin movie from 1970 featuring the original off-Broadway cast reprising their roles. I think the most important aspect of this production was that, on the night I attended, the majority of the audience members were a generation younger than I. I hope that the lack of a proscenium arch removed any barriers–historical or otherwise–and helped them get inside the world of this play, which takes place within my adult lifetime (barely, though–I was thirteen in 1968).
Please do what you can in your communities to support your local arts. My life is enriched by experiencing live theatre so intimately, so personally. And to defunkt theatre–thanks for a job well done.