“Show me a happy homosexual and I’ll show you a gay corpse.”
That’s an immortal line from Mart Crowley’s seminal 1968 play The Boys in the Band — and a chilly reminder of the way things were prior to queer liberation. In 1968, Crowley’s story of a group of angry queer men at a dinner party was shocking and heartbreaking in its stark portrait of society’s oppressive effect on queer psychology. Now, a revival of the play seeks to present the same story but with new relevance.
Ryan Murphy announced Wednesday that he will be co-producing a star-studded revival of the play which is set to hit Broadway in spring of 2018. The cast is set to include Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Robin De Jesus, Michael Benjamin Washington, Brian Hutchison and Tuc Watkins and will be directed by Tony winner Joe Mantello. Flagrant proposed casting ideas when the revival was first announced more than four months ago. Zachary Quinto was one of our suggestions. You’re welcome, Ryan Murphy.
“In 1968, Mart Crowley made theatrical history by giving voice to gay men onstage, in this uncompromising, blisteringly honest, and wickedly funny play,” said Murphy in a statement Wednesday. “The play was groundbreaking in its exploration of how gay men treated each other and how they were made to feel about themselves. And while some attitudes have thankfully shifted, it’s important to be reminded of what we have overcome and how much further we still have to go.”
When Boys in the Band hit the New York stage 50 years ago — just a year before the Stonewall Riots — queer men had virtually no realistic representation on Broadway or in Hollywood. Queer men were always presented as stereotypes, and viewed with a baseline level of disdain.
But Crowley’s play — and a subsequent 1970 movie adaptation — helped change all that. By showing that queer men’s attitudes and struggles were products of societal oppression, and not their own orientations, it built a case for empathy and understanding. Sure enough, when a TIME reviewer saw the film in 1970, they wrote: “If the situation of the homosexual is ever to be understood by the public, it will be because of the breakthrough made by this humane, moving picture.”
Of course, the characters of Boys in the Band seem jarringly bitter and depressed when compared to the liberated queer population of 2017, but their story is an essential reminder of the damaging effects of homophobia — and of the effort it takes to fight it.
Here’s the trailer for the 1970 film: