For its last show of the 2012-2013 season, West Coast Players is producing the comedy-psychodrama The Boys in the Band, the groundbreaking play by Mart Crowley.
When the play, which focuses on a birthday party populated by gay men, first opened off-Broadway in 1968, psychotherapists still classified homosexuality as a mental illness, police routinely raided gay bars and the Stonewall riots were still one year away.
It is true, The Boys in the Band was written last century — before the AIDS epidemic rallied the troops, long before celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and NBA player Jason Collins came out, and decades before any state legalized gay marriage. So, some could make the argument that the play has lost its relevance.
However, the folks at West Coast Players would disagree with that.
Actor Zachary Tranter, who portrays the flamboyant Emory, believes it would be naive ". . . not to study The Boys in the Band.
"I see a lot of similarities in what I've experienced today and what is spoken in this play," said Tranter, 21. "The power of the piece is that it shows where we need to go with it all. There's still a long ways to go.''
Just like in the original production, the West Coast Players version of Boys in the Band invites the audience to peek into a circa 1968 Greenwich Village apartment, outfitted with abstract art, rotary phones and a tall bar dotted with vodka, gin and martini glasses. The character Michael, played by Mark William Myers, is hosting a birthday party for his friend Harold (Sam DePriest).
When the night begins, the party includes eight revelers, all gay men singing, dancing and celebrating a moment when they are not hiding who they really are. But when an unexpected guest, Michael's heterosexual friend appears, the mood changes.
At first, characters toss out silly one-liners including, "What is he — a psychiatrist or a hairdresser?'' and "Would you mind waiting over there with the gifts?"
However, as more alcohol is consumed, the evening becomes a drunken brawl. The characters begin spewing sarcastic remarks at each other, and Crowley's script is clear: These men are angry that they are forced to keep their sexuality hidden.
There's a moment when Harold bellows at Michael, "You're a sad and pathetic man. You're a homosexual and you don't want to be, but there's nothing you can do to change it."
Tom Costello is the director of the show as well as the actor who portrays Donald, Michael's beau. He stressed the diversity of the cast.
"It's mixed in many ways — sexual orientation, ethnicity, color. What this play does is it applies to everyone. It's how you feel about yourself,'' he said.
Costello also stressed the importance of the play, even in the 21st century.
"I'm 64, and I lived through what this play is about, and we have come a long way,'' he said. "But there are so many millions of people still in the closet. They're letting themselves be their own victims as the outside world has accepted us. They still think they can't come out, and this play is about them too.''
The Boys in the Band is intended for mature audiences.
"We don't want children to come to this one,'' said Costello. "It includes strong adult language and material.''
A special performance to benefit St. Pete Pride will be held at 8 p.m. June 20, with a wine and cheese reception. Tickets are $30.
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163.