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The Boys in the Band

October 19th, 2011 No comments

The Boys in the Band


Saw The Boys in the Band last Friday at convergence and enjoyed myself thoroughly.


The play, written by Mart Crowley, first appeared in 1968 and in some ways you can tell that it is dated–and not in the more obvious aspects–set, exposition, etc., but in the real concerns confronting the characters. This is not to say that it is not very powerful: it is. And powerful in ways you might not expect. Although the issue of homosexuality concerning the men might not be as biting today as it was once, the other fears and concerns that the men express certainly resonate: aging and the heart rending realization that your best years are not only behind you, but lost forever and only memories; finding meaning and value in one’s life, accepting who you are and learning to move forward in the best possible way. For these characters, though, in 1968, there was piled on top of these more “common” concerns, the very real stigma and abuse associated with being homosexual.


The Boys in the Band, in essence, is about a group of gay men coming together to throw a birthday party. As the party goes along, and the men drink more and more, it becomes apparent that the life-long battle with the social stigma that has been attached to their sexual orientation has brutalized many of the men’s self image and, coupled with the issues I mentioned above, leads to scathing and terrible personal attacks as self-hatred and loathing is projected (by some men) and returned, and volleyed around like a tennis ball. It is important, I think, to note that the men are each representative of a certain type and not all of the men hates himself.

The play gets off to a slow start at the apartment of the host, Michael, (Curt Arnold) who is getting dressed and preparing the apartment for the party. His lover, Donald, (Zac Hudak) arrives (he’s a librarian) and through a rather lengthy stretch of exposition we receive the information that will drive most of the rest of the play: the disillusion that Donald and Michael have with the gay scene, the fact that each is seeing a shrink, that Michael has always had a difficult time with this parents, his identity, and has recently stopped smoking and drinking. The final piece of the expositional puzzle is a telephone call to Michael from Alan (Jim Jarrell) an old college chum (conceited, supercilious, pretentious) who is also straight–perhaps. Alan is drunkenly weeping into the phone and has something to tell Michael; he will only tell Michael in person, and insists on coming over to Michael’s apartment. One-by-one the guests arrive and the play really picks up steam and energy: Emory (Clyde Simon) is the quintessential fairy who lightly floats about making snarky, often lascivious, comments; Bernard (Bobby Williams) the only black gay man in the group; Larry (Scott Zolkowski), a truly lascivious gay man who cannot abide monogamy, much to the chagrin of his lover Hank (Dan Kilbane) the token “married” gay man in the group; a gay prostitute/midnight cowboy (Benjamin Gregg); and finally, there is Harold (Jonathan Wilhelm) in whose honor the party is being thrown.

With the party in full gear the drunkenness and back-talking begins. All is well until Alan shows up forcing Michael to request that the gay men all behave and pretend to be what they are not, culminating at the end of act one with Alan punching Emory for one-too-many snide comments and Michael falling off the wagon and chugging vodka or scotch from a carafe.

The second act builds on the first with drunken boisterousness rising and rising alongside the anger and self-loathing of Michael who now takes careful target at virtually everyone in the room–with only Harold, the star party guest, showing the capacity to match Michael’s sparring.


I’ll not bore everyone with a book report of the play, but suffice it to say the play becomes very raw and dangerous at this point, exposing what I can only imagine to be the circa 1960s/70s psychological damage that was done by the constant degradation of these men by the societal and cultural attitudes toward who they in their very being were. Despite the lightness, the airs, the joking; one can see that the damage and relentlessness of it on the psyche and health of these men was severe and Crowley’s play does an excellent job of laying bare this reality.

Production Notes

Douglas Tyson-Rand does a very good job directing and keeping the pace of this play up and driving constantly forward; Cory Molnar designed a great circa-1960s set for the play that, as always, is comfy cozy in the close-up world of The Liminis theater space.

If you haven’t seen this play, do yourself a favor and check it out. It runs through Saturday, October 29th at convergence.

Julia Jordan — Gender Parity — A “nice writer-girl from Minnesota”

June 24th, 2011 No comments

This talk was very emotional and, yes, I admit it, choked me up.  Jordan came at the talk from a very emotional place and it was affecting.  I have given two eulogies in my life for grandparents (Ruth Hayes and Frank Warden) and I wrote from a very personal and emotional place and Jordan’s talk hit me right in the same place, so I was quite affected by it.

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The story that Jordan tells is of her incredibly strong-willed, strong-spirited grandmother (Mary) whose strength clearly resonates in Jordan.  Jordan’s tale is unfortunately not that unique, as she admits.  My grandmother, Ruth Warden–not Ruth Hayes–grew up on a farm in the great depression and had 10 siblings.  She worked tirelessly herself on farms, in canning factories, and scrubbing floors, and finally as a nurse.  She was a strong woman whose work ethic and practicality make me blush like the girl I am compared with her.  My wife, Kirsten, can tell similar stories of her grandmother.  The early part of the 20th century produced strong women, and men, the likes of which we don’t find too often anymore in our age of entitlement.  I don’t think I ever heard Ruth Warden, my “Meme,” once say the word “owe” as in, “he…she…they… owe me.”  Or “I deserve.”  Whether she thought it or not, I do not know.  But by all signs I would say that she did not.  She simply did what needed to be done.  This, too, is the tale told by Jordan of her grandmother.

The point, and focus, therefore, being as it is on strong women, is that there is an imbalance in the number of women playwrights being produced, especially given the number of women playwrights working, and Jordan sought answers to the “why” of this.  As well, she worked with several other playwrights, including Martha Norman, to establish the Lilly Awards, named after Lillian Hellman, to recognized women in theater.  And yet, as Jordan points out, after all her grandmother went through in her life, the idea that she is complaining that her theater career is not as it should be seems somewhat frivolous.

Jordan notes that was in looking with a friend at the list of plays that were being produced in the upcoming year, and noting that there were less women on that list than the usual “one in five slots to which we were accustomed” that she finally decided to do something.  Jordan says that she firmly believes that if the “production rate had stayed above the 17-20% mark that she would have kept her mouth shut.”

Jordan then listed the common arguments to which she was exposed and to which she often listened:

  • That established writers are overwhelmingly male;
  • That male artistic directors were just more drawn to male works;
  • That male writers write more dramatically, while females write more poetically;
  • That drama is more commercial that flowery and poetic script;
  • That things will get better in the future when there are more women artistic directors;

The problem for Jordan was that she had been hearing those arguments for years: since she was a student, and now, no longer a student but a teacher at Columbia, and things still had not changed.  Jordan then looked at her 2001 NYSCA report which noted that 17% of productions were by women playwrights and then Jordan examined the TCG list of top ten plays (she refers to it as “most often produced plays”) and noted numbers here, where are unclear to me–17% of first productions and then double that the next year? 34%?  For clarification as to the significance of this discovery, Jordan called her date to her senior year high-school valentine dance, which was Freakonomics author Steven Levitt.  While Levitt told her that she really hadn’t discovered definitive proof of bias in the American theater, as Jordan suggested, he encouraged her to find someone who had a statistical bent to look at the issue more closely.  In the mean time, as she googled about on the subject of bias in the arts, she discovered the study Orchestrating Impartiality by Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse; which found that when orchestra performers auditioned behind screens (blind auditions) the representation of women and minorities in orchestras vastly improved.  So, Jordan found Cecilia and met with her: Emily Sans was guided toward the project as her thesis.  She did three studies:

  • Supply (are women present in the same numbers as men?)
    • 30% of submissions are women (artistic directors reporting)
    • Doolee/TCG — 30% representation
    • Tough, because it doesn’t match up with women’s experience.
    • Hard also because of the reality, which is making a living as a playwright is hard. Jordan notes that as hard as it is for men to juggle responsibilities and playwriting, it’s harder for women and the attrition rate is higher–less supply.
  • Audit study
    • 4 scripts read by various artistic directors
    • Reported, variously, as authored by men or women
    • No bias on subject of excellence with regard to the sex of the individual playwright
    • However, Sans did find that women respondents regarding the plays believed there would be:
      • Fewer tickets sold
      • More negative reviews
      • Top talent would be harder to attract
      • Artistic directors would not want to produce
      • Would not fit with the theater’s mission
    • That is, if the script was “penned” by a male, it was not viewed as having these challenges.
    • Sans found bias — “A really interesting kind” — “self-fulfilling prophesy” or “women in theater are just reporting honestly what they see and know to be true”.
  • Broadway Study
    • 10 years of Broadway plays
    • Throughout outliers
    • Judged plays against plays, musicals against musicals, and one-person shows against one-person shows.
    • Shows by women made on average 18% more money, but were subject to shorter runs than shows by men.  This was the strongest evidence of bias in economic terms, because, of course, why would investors willingly cut short runs of plays that are making more money?
    • The only way that there is a problem with the study’s judgment is if each show by a woman cost 18% more to mount than did a show by a man.  But, as Jordan pointed out, on average plays produced by women are produced in smaller spaces and have smaller cast sizes than plays by men.

Jordan then goes on to note that women dominate theater in high school and college.  In writing departments their numbers are similar to those of men at the graduate level. Agents rep around 50/50. Theaters state that 30% of scripts are submitted by women, and in turn that theater produce 20% of those scripts.  “That’s what happens to female writers: attrition.”  Jordan then casts the argument and findings in terms of race to highlight the discrepancy and “merit” considerations.

Per my comment above with regard to my Meme, Jordan’s grandmother never complained or bemoaned what had happen to her.  And she won’t complain about her own position.  But all things being equal in any conditions and circumstances, men will do better than women in terms of making a living in the theater, or Jordan suggests, any art: except the orchestra: which holds its auditions behind screens to ensure that the race and gender of the applicant is hidden.
While Jordan notes that the fact that only 1 in 5 women playwrights get produced is a small problem in a small context that many people don’t care about.  But she notes, as given the story and history of her grandmother, that the problem isn’t just in theater: it’s bigger than that and reflects the whole of our society.  Further, Jordan encourages that if it’s our small problem in our small area than it is ours to fix.  And that by fixing it, and putting the stories of more women on the stages “we will help in the best way we can to re-define in the audience’s mind: who, and what women have always been, are, and can be.”

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