Where the Boys Are
Fifty years ago, in a converted church on W. 55th St., Mart Crowley’s “The Boys in the Band” had the distinction of being America’s first modern, out-and-proud gay play. Maybe “proud” is an overstatement. This, after all, was 1968, and most of the cast was still (publicly) in the closet. Crowley’s funny but also blisteringly angry drama follows a diverse group of gay men throwing a birthday party for one of their friends at a Greenwich Village apartment. (The film version was released in 1970). With the unexpected arrival of the host’s straight ex-roommate from college, the gay-versus-straight tension reaches a boiling point. Secrets are revealed; punches are thrown.
Now “Boys” has made its long-delayed Broadway debut at the Booth Theatre, and the closet door has been ripped off its hinges. The revival was masterminded by TV producer Ryan Murphy (“American Horror Story,” “Glee”), staged by Joe Mantello (“Wicked”) and stars some of pop culture’s dishiest lads: Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer and Andrew Rannells. Quinto (aka Spock in the “Star Trek” reboot) plays the Jewish, acid-tongued birthday boy, Harold, while Bomer (of “Magic Mike” sequel fame) is neurotic but caring Donald.
How did you two get involved in “The Boys in the Band”?
Matt Bomer: Ryan Murphy called me a little over a year ago and said, “Hey, the 50th anniversary of this piece is coming up.” I’m familiar with the play. I’d heard about it, read about it, but a lot of my knowledge of gay history in theater started with Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart” and “Torch Song Trilogy.” I wasn’t familiar with that pre- and post-Stonewall moment in the theater.
Zachary Quinto: Ryan put together a reading at the beginning of last year. I’ve never seen the play, and I don’t know the movie version. I’m deliberately waiting till after the run to see the film. But there’s such an interconnection between all of us. I’ve known Matt for over 20 years; we went to college together. Jim Parsons I’ve known for ages. I’ve done a movie with Charlie Carver; I’ve acted on stage with Brian Hutchison; I’ve been friends with Joe Mantello for years and always wanted to work with him. So, there was just a lot of momentum.
Do you prefer film to theater, or the other way around, and why?
Zachary Quinto: If I could make the same living doing theater that I make doing film and television, it’s all I would do. I am never more comfortable or happier than when I’m onstage. There’s something about being onstage and telling a story that is ultimately more satisfying and rewarding.
Matt Bomer: I don’t have a preference; they’re completely different
mediums for different people. Television is a writer’s medium, no question. But what I love about theater is a sense that anything can happen
in the moment. When you have a live audience, it’s never the same any two times. There’s no other medium that gives you that direct feedback and thrill.
“Boys in the Band” is about being part of a gay community in the late 1960s, but closeted. What are you taking from your life to get into that period mind-set?
Matt Bomer: You have to remember that these guys have to have their party behind closed doors. If they’re seen dancing together in public, they’ll be arrested. I grew up in semirural Texas. I understand what it is to have society tell you you’re “less than,” you cannot be who you are in a public forum. And I understand that velvet rage that can come with it. That’s part of my youth. And I think that’s why this piece is important.
Zachary Quinto: For me, it’s the notion of aging—which is a huge part of Harold’s journey. That’s why it takes place at his birthday party. And the journey of a gay man into middle age is something that I’m in direct relationship to myself. I just turned 40, so I know what it means to get older in this culture and this community, which so prizes youth and the beauty that comes with youth. I think that’s a real theme in this play, not only for Harold, but for all of the characters.
Zachary, you were on Broadway in 2013 in “The Glass Menagerie” revival; and Matt, you did a reading from the gay-marriage drama, “8,” in 2011. How does it feel to be back on Broadway?
Matt Bomer: This is really my Broadway debut. Dustin Lance Black’s “8” was a one-night-only staged reading. It’s my dream come true. I actually trained to be a theater actor. It’s only by freak circumstances that my career has gone down other avenues. I’m scared—in a good way—but it also feels like I’m coming home.
Zachary Quinto: Well, not only am I coming back to Broadway, but I’m coming home to the same theater and same dressing room! I love the Booth Theatre. It’s an intimate house, but it has a lot of history and power. Just in terms of location, it’s a corner theater, right on Shubert Alley, and it’s just got a real presence. If I could do all my plays in the Booth, I’d be happy with that!
What about other current or future projects?
Matt Bomer: I directed episode eight of [FX’s] “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.” That was really exciting, an incredible privilege and a really educational experience all the way around. Also, I finished a couple of movies back-to-back, one called “Vulture Club” with Susan Sarandon and the other with the Irish Film Board called “Papi Chulo,” both out later in 2018.
Zachary Quinto: There’s a new film, “Aardvark,” which I produced and star in. We made it two years ago, and I’m excited to finally put it out into the world. I star alongside Jenny Slate and Jon Hamm. I have a film coming out later in the year called “Hotel Artemis” that stars Jodie Foster and Jeff Goldblum—I play Jeff’s son. So, those are the two things I have on the horizon, then I’m sort of really open. But for now, it’s all about the play and having a great summer in the city!