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Tribeca Talks: <br>Making the Boys

The seminal '60s work Boys in the Band is revisited in the work-in-progress doc Making the Boys. Panelists shared personal memories after Monday's screening.



The cultural history of the 1968 stage play Boys in the Band and the 1970 film version is long and complex. Mart Crowley’s dark comedy about a group of gay friends in New York has been celebrated, spurned, forgotten and revived throughout the past forty years. This cycle is explored with verve in Crayton Robey’s work-in-progress documentary Making the Boys. After the special screening, co-presented by GLAAD, Robey and Crowley sat down with a panel that included media personalities Carson Kressley and Michael Musto and original cast member Laurence Luckinbill. The lively panel fielded questions from an audience who appeared to have their own rich history with the Boys: some had acted in regional productions; others had seen it in early in their coming out process.

Musto was out when he first saw it but found it “still transformative… to learn that there was this out gay community in 1968.” Though the play’s vicious one liners have often been denounced as internalized homophobia, Musto disagrees: “I think the putdowns show real love and community. I came from an old school Italian-American family, and if you cared about someone you gave them a zinger.”

The play was a major turning point in the director’s life. Robey was sixteen and struggling with his sexuality when a high school teacher in Texas caught him kissing a male classmate. They were called into his office. “He pulled out copies of Mart’s Boys in the Band and he told us to read it and come back the following week and we were going to discuss it… it was so healing for me.”

Crowley is amused by this story and the play’s reach. He recounts Robert Downey, Jr. approaching him in a diner, where the actor said, “I just want to tell you that I played in Boys in the Band in high school.” Broadway legend Carol Channing even asked Crowley if he’d approve an all female production! Though Boys brought the playwright fame and temporary fortune, he’s still humble and honest about its creation. “How did I know what I was doing? It wasn’t planned. It was like something inside of me had to bust out.” He credits the original director Robert Moore with shaping it. He had some hesitancy about working with a new director (William Friedkin) for the film version, but the studio insisted. Musto humorously suggested, “It was his dry run for The Exorcist.” Crowley quipped back, “I’m glad you didn’t say Cruising,” referencing Friedkin’s later, widely-hated gay-themed picture.

Luckinbill, one of only a few surviving members of the original cast (most of whom died of AIDS complications in the 1980s and early '90s), was the most eager to sign on, but his agent worried. “At that point I’d been eleven years in New York. [I thought] there’s no way this can hurt me because nobody knows who I am… yet.”

Robey identified with “Bernard,” the only person of color in the cast, and is still trying to find Reuben Greene (the actor who played Bernard). He hopes to include him in the final cut. Kressley amused the audience by offering an award to anyone who could help Robey out.
 



Making the Boys will screen again on Sunday, May 3. (No panel discussion will follow.) Tickets are still available as of today.

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