Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Mart Crowley's The Men From The Boys Opens At The New Conservatory
Also see Richard's review of Ted Kaczynskie Killed People with Bombs
The New Conservatory Theatre Center is presenting the world premiere of The Men from the Boys, Mart Crowley's sequel to his 1968 play The Boys in the Band. The new play is set 30 years later in the same apartment. Most of Michael's friends are still alive, with the exception of Larry the beautiful party boy and partner of Hank. This get together is not as lively as the party given for Harold's birthday thirty years ago because Larry has just died of pancreatic cancer. As Michael says, gay men don't necessary die of AIDS, they are like normal people and die of other things like cancer, heart attacks and automobile accidents - and, as Emory adds, murder also. Needless to say, the party is somber and the men jockey around trying to get into some sort of an Irish wake mood. Also present are three younger gay men who some how feel out of place with these "old queens."
Michael (Russ Duffy) is still a self hating homosexual who "hates everyone in the world, hates being born a homosexual." He no longer drinks, but he still has his mean streak. He is keeping a young "hustler" type named Scott (Glen Christian Holm), who wants a strictly platonic relationship with the older man. This does not give Michael a good outlook on growing old. Emory (Michael Patrick Gaffney) is still a screaming queen, mincing around the apartment saying campy one liners, many of which are beautifully written, such as "the one good thing about Alzheimer's is you get to hide your own Easter eggs."
Harold (Will Huddleston) as usual comes late to the party but he still has his acid tongue. Donald (Peter Carlstrom), who was Michael's sensible friend, now has become a slave to Bombay Gin and one gets the sense he should join AA. Hank (Terry Lamb), Larry's previous lover, has not changed much. He is still quiet and introspective. Bernard (Larry Sims), Emory's African American ex-lover has now married a woman but still likes to play both sides of the field.
Add to this mélange, three young gay men who have a completely different spin on gay life. Jason (Owen Thomas) is an activist in the gay world. He thinks "old queens" are dinosaurs and should be extinct. However, I think he has a certain fascination with the older gay crowd. Rick (Rajiv Shaw) is a mixed up part Vietnamese and part Filipino who wants to be accepted. His character even took French lessons and he tries to pass off as part French. He seems lost in the gay world and he desperately wants someone to love him. Michael says to him, "You should not try to get someone to love you, you should let a person come to you with love." Scott (Olen Christian Holm), who is only in the first act, is a whiner, a user and probably loves his drugs. He is the type that an older person should try to avoid unless he has strong masochistic tendencies, like Michael. Larry (Andrew Nance) makes an unecessary appearance from the grave.
The Men from the Boys is a character driven piece. It is simply about the how younger gay men grow into older gay men. The playwright says it best: "It is about the interplay of what is now the older generation' with the younger generation.' Like it or not, they must come to terms with the way times, too, have changed. Life ... ever moving on."
Mart Crowley's dialogue is crisp and fun. There are some wonderful lines coming from both Harold and Emory. One line that I like is, "you can always tell a person is gay if they are trying to change the ending to Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along."
The opening scene is interesting, when all of the men with the exception of Harold and "boys" are in stilted poses, like the last scene of 1776 when the characters sign the Declaration of Independence. It is a very good start to the first act, though many following scenes are jerky and jarring. A scene about Scott's early trauma is totally unnecessary since he had already been living with Michael for quite sometime. It is as if Scott is telling the audience the story. It just did not fit in the play. Also, it is not necessary for the deceased Larry to make an appearance since it adds nothing to Michael's own problems.
The second act is more constructive and more dramatic. The confrontation between Michael and Justin is excellent, and another war of words between Harold and Michael is outstanding. There is even a little campy song by Emory about growing old and wearing makeup and earrings and a sleek black outfit. The act moves along smoothly and quickly. However, it is somewhat anticlimactic and the last scene could easily be removed or incorporated into an earlier scene. The dramatic impact of the scene before is completely lost.
Will Huddleston is outstanding as Harold. The play shines when he comes late to the party. Michael Patrick Gaffney plays Emory completely over the top with his campy queen character. Russ Duffy starts out slow but toward the end of the first act and the whole of the second he is exceptional as the self hating gay Irish Catholic. Terry Lamb makes good account of Hank. His role is static at first but he finally warms up with his scenes in the second act. Peter Carlstrom as Donald really does not have much to do in the dramatic scenes. However, he does make the most of his drunken scene. Lewis Sims as Bernard has some good moments.
Of the three younger men, Rajiv Shah is admirable as the lost young man trying to find his identity. He has a good voice and great presence on stage. Owen Thomas as Jason could be more combative as a gay rights leader and he could deliver lines with more conviction. Olen Christian Holm as Scott reminds me of Macaulay Culkin. This young man appears to be a character under some sort of drug that makes him lifeless.
Eric E. Sinkkonen's set is marvelous. It is a beautifully decorated East 50s Manhattan duplex apartment. There is a fantastic bar cabinet that opens up on stage. You could actually live on this set. Lighting is excellent. Ed Decker's direction is also excellent, especially in the second act when everything is right on the mark.
The Men from the Boys contains excellent dishy dialogue and great verbal pyrotechnics with some good acting from the principals. Once that first act is tightened up and becomes sharper, Mart should have a very good play on his hands.
The drama plays at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness, and San Francisco through December 8th. Tickets are available by calling 415-861-8972 and online at www.nctcsf.org.
There are several openings coming up at the NCTC, including the Off Broadway hit The Food Chain and the world premier of the mystery comedy The Bombay Truck You can check the theatre schedule for dates.