Windy City Playhouse presents THE BOYS IN THE BAND.
On the heels of its Southern Gothic immersion success, WCP gives us another cultural virtual reality. This experience is set in a high-rise in the Upper East Side of Manhattan in 1968 for a birthday party.
Audience members, in groups of 5-6, are directed by the house manager to the ‘elevator.’ We leave the theatre lobby to walk down a corridor that opens into a small reception area. A pedestal table has scattered letters, a plant and a stack of packages next to it. In front of us is an ‘elevator’. Even knowing this theatre has one floor, the illusion, created by Scenic Designer William Boles, is so authentic I press the old-fashion button. The doors open. We enter. A bored bell boy is reading a book. The actual ‘ride’ has all the legitimate sounds of an elevator (not out to Designer Sarah Espinoza) that our companions are giggling in disbelief. The doors open on the other side revealing a long apartment corridor. We stroll down to the open door.
The actual apartment has a lofted bedroom, sunken living room and windows looking into a city alley. Before the show starts, I’m already in love with this mid century marvel created by the design team (Boles, Espinoza, Erik Barry-lighting, and Mealah Heidenreich – properties and set dressing). It’s a picture-perfect, swank 1960s bachelor pad complete with Dean Martin album on top of the stereo console. Audience members are encouraged to sit on the red benches along the fringe and encircling the center stage. (Pro tip: the banquette along the south wall provides a view of the action from the most unobstructed angles.) We are also allowed to nibble on snacks in bowls including Red Vines.
We meet the party guests. Our host Michael (played by Jackson Evans) is in perpetual analysis. A flamboyant Emory (played by William Marquez) has been arrested multiple times for immorality. Hank (played by Ryan Reilly) has left his wife for a man. Bernard (played by Denzel Tsopnang) is navigating life as both gay and black. Donald (played by Jordan Dell Harris) and Larry (played by James Lee) are looking for love in bath houses. And the Cowboy (played by Kyle Patrick) is tricking for a little extra cash. Before the birthday boy (played by Sam Bell Gurwitz) shows up, an uninvited college chum (played by Christian Edwin Cook) arrives.
Even in a cosmopolitan city like NYC, gays were closeted, loathed, beaten and arrested… within my lifetime. That reality is a gut puncher. And respect to Crowley’s courageous 1968 debut. Although the content no longer is shocking, controversial and provocative, the friendships are messy and honest.
Under the direction of Carl Menninger, this talented band of boys build a solid camaraderie. They drink. They dance. They joke. They bicker. They fight. They lash out at each other. And they hate themselves for doing it. Yet, they also see the faults. They understand the pain. They forgive the moment. And they take care of each other. Although some of Crowley’s vernacular feels dated or maybe even stereotyped, the underlying message of friendship is timeless and beautiful!
THE BOYS IN THE BAND is a trip upstairs and back in time. Booze is flowing heavy for the characters and the audience (complimentary drinks of vodka tonics and champagne are served). This is a show to experience for both the cool aesthetics and thought-provoking turmoil. The revelry gets out-of-hand but the friendships endure and endear.
Running Time: One hundred and ten minutes with no intermission
Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park
Written by Mart Crowley
Directed by Carl Menninger
Thursdays at 7:30
Fridays at 8pm
Saturdays at 3:30pm and 8pm
Sundays at 1:30pm and 6pm
EXTENDED thru May 15th
Production photos by Michael Brosilow
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