For a play that’s 50 years old this year, The Boys in the Band seems remarkably fresh. Some of this is due to the crisp writing, and some of this is due to the fact that the gay community is still fighting some of the same wars they were half a century ago, no matter how much we may pat ourselves on the back for progress that’s been made.
Michael (JJ Buechner) has invited a group of his friends over to celebrate their mutual friend Harold’s (Jon South) birthday; before everyone arrives, his college roommate Alan (Kevin Miner) calls, despondent and needing to speak to him immediately. Alan is unaware that Michael is gay and Michael is afraid to have Alan meet his friends, but invites him over against his better judgment. As the night progresses, Michael and his friends get increasingly inebriated and the party takes a bitter tone, compounded by the fact that Alan seems to be hiding something from the group and has attacked another partygoer for his sexuality.
Director Sierra Lynch didn’t have an easy time with this one; she let us know before the show that due to an injury, a key role had to be recast right before the show opened and one of the actors would be going on with script in hand. This is always off-putting for both cast and production crew, but everyone handled it professionally – and the show must, as they say, go on.
Buechner was strong in his role, and very believable; as the party progressed you could see him falling apart not only within the script, but in his stage business, with each drink and cigarette, with his body language. His final moments were truly touching. Miner took a character it would be easy to hate and made him sympathetic; his struggle, as private as he was trying to keep it, was clear, and considering the time period, you felt genuine pain for the choices he made (and would continue needing to make.) Kudos to Carter Homes, who stepped in as Donald last-minute; he did, indeed, carry his script, but needed it much less than one would expect, and obviously had done a lot of work to prepare for playing the character in a very short period of time.
I feel as if I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but it really is key: pacing was the main issue with the production. These were (other than Alan) men who were good friends and close to one another; their relationship should dictate the way they talk to one another, and their conversation should be quick and overlap, without awkward pauses waiting for the next actor to deliver a line. It bogs down the production and brings the audience out of the action.
This is a living piece of history, and it’s a strong choice by the group to stage this production; credit goes to them for choosing a difficult piece and allowing local audiences to experience it with them.
“The Boys in the Band”, Local Actors Guild of Saratoga, Saratoga Arts, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs; through March 25; $20; Run time: 2 hours and 5 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; 518-393-3496