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'The Boys in the Band' review: The closet, re-explored

"The Boys in the Band" at Studio Theatre in Lindenhurst. Photo Credit: John Martin

From the start, director David Dubin shrewdly acknowledges that "The Boys in the Band" is an artifact from a time when "closet" primarily evoked something other than a place to hang one's garments.

The "boys," gathered for the 42nd birthday of one of their own, are all out -- at least among each other. But an interloper throws everyone's equilibrium into such disarray that their comfort zone is reduced to a fig leaf.

It's not part of the script of Mart Crowley's 1968 drama credited with stoking courage mustered in the Stonewall uprising a year later, but Studio Theatre's "Boys in the Band" opens with the silhouetted image of a nonagenarian listening to news of the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, devolving in reverse order through the AIDS epidemic and Archie Bunker homophobia.

So when Michael greets his first guest, we feel the tension of history, not unlike that of "Selma" and the civil rights movement against racism. While coming out is still an important issue for individuals, it no longer carries debilitating social and economic consequences in much of the civilized world. So why does this play still matter? Because if gay men and women can be denied basic rights -- as recently as last month -- all liberties are threatened.

Michael, played by Joe Marshall with the simmering self-loathing of an ex-virgin who regrets surrender to an unworthy suitor, finds himself torn between true identity and public denial. Just after his former lover (argumentative Jeff Greene) arrives, Michael takes a call from his straight roommate from college. Allan (uptight Angelo DiBiase) remains determinedly clueless when he arrives at this boys-only party -- understated gay-centric set by Erick Creegan -- featuring a cowboy prostitute (Robbie Dema). Harold (audacious Michael Harrison Carlin), whose birthday is celebrated, spells it out for Allan. The next "straightest" guy in the room (Eugene Gamblin) is married, but lives with his promiscuous lover (George Ghossn). Ryan Nolin as Emory, the outlandish queen, is so exasperated at Allan's dimness that he wields cross-gender pronouns like a saber. Josh Bellinger adds a laid-back presence in that his character is accustomed to discrimination -- racially.

While the boys may lack harmony, they don't lack authenticity. To see how they've progressed, Studio presents staged readings of Crowley's quarter-century-later sequel, "The Men in the Band," July 31-Aug. 2. One of them has died.

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through July 26, Studio Theatre, 141 S. Wellwood Ave., Lindenhurst

TICKETS  $25; 631-226-8400,

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