Authors: Mart Crowley

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American playwright

Identity: Gay or bisexual

Author Works

Drama:

The Boys in the Band, pr., pb. 1968

Remote Asylum, pr. 1970

A Breeze from the Gulf, pr. 1973

Avec Schmaltz, pr. 1984

For Reasons That Remain Unclear, pr. 1993

Three Plays, pb. 1996

Screenplay:

The Boys in the Band, 1970 (adaptation of his play)

Teleplays:

There Must Be a Pony, 1986 (adaptation of James Kirkwood’s novel)

Bluegrass, 1988

People Like Us, 1990

Biography

Martino Crowley, shortened to Mart Crowley, was the only child of devout, conservative, Catholic parents who sent him to a Roman Catholic high school in Vicksburg and urged him to attend the University of Notre Dame. Crowley balked and went to Los Angeles, drawn there by his early fascination with films and film stars. Soon his father, a transplanted Midwesterner of Irish ancestry, compromised and allowed Crowley to attend the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Two years of that atmosphere, however, was all that the starstruck Crowley could take, and he fled from Catholic University to the University of California at Los Angeles to study art, hoping to prepare himself to become a designer of film sets. He soon returned to Catholic University, where he developed a close association with classmate James Rado, one of the writers of the rock musical Hair (which ran in New York in 1968). Crowley worked in summer stock theater in Vermont during his summers at Catholic University.{$I[AN]9810001311}{$I[A]Crowley, Mart}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Crowley, Mart}{$I[geo]GAY OR BISEXUAL;Crowley, Mart}{$I[tim]1935;Crowley, Mart}

Upon his graduation in 1957, Crowley’s interest in drama drew him to California to write scripts and work with production companies. From 1964 to 1966, he worked as private secretary for Natalie Wood, whom he had met when they worked together on William Inge’s film Splendor in the Grass (1961).

Discouraged when his film script of Dorothy Baker’s 1962 novel Cassandra at the Wedding was not produced, Crowley left California in 1966 and spent a year in Rome. By 1967, his fortunes were improving; Paramount Pictures filmed his screenplay Fade In. The studio’s failure to release the film, however, led Crowley to begin psychoanalysis to help him deal with his ensuing depression and anxiety. Through this psychoanalysis, he reached his decision to write an overtly homosexual play about gays celebrating the birthday of one of their friends.

The basic idea for The Boys in the Band had occurred to Crowley eight years earlier, and he had occasionally returned to it, but psychoanalysis provided him with the self-knowledge he needed to bring such a play to fruition. The actual writing proceeded quickly once Crowley decided to write the play; he completed the script in five weeks during the summer of 1967. Crowley’s agent, although enthusiastic about his writing, doubted that any producer would touch a play so overtly homosexual. The script, nevertheless, reached Robert Barr, who decided to produce it.

Casting the play presented problems because established actors would not risk stereotyping themselves by taking roles in a play about homosexuals. When the play opened at the Vandam Theater in January, 1968, therefore, it was cast with virtual unknowns. By April of the same year, The Boys in the Band had moved to an Off-Broadway theater where, save for a sprinkling of homophobic reviews, it was well received.

The action is set in the New York apartment of a gay man, Michael, host of a birthday party for a gay friend, Harold, who arrives late. Meanwhile, amid queenly banter and dancing, Michael’s former college roommate, Alan, who has left his wife, arrives and precipitates much of the play’s action, which includes a telephone game not unlike the “get-the-guest” ploy Edward Albee uses in his 1962 drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The importance of The Boys in the Band, which ran for more than a thousand performances on Broadway, is that it is the first play in American theater to deal head-on with an exclusively homosexual situation. Tennessee Williams had created homosexual characters, such as Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) and Sebastian in Suddenly Last Summer (1958), and Inge included in his later plays some overtly gay characters, such as Vince in Natural Affection (1963) and Pinky in Where’s Daddy? (1966). These characters, however, were aberrations. In The Boys in the Band, it is Alan, the only straight character in the play, who is aberrant. The play reached a broad audience on Broadway and a still broader one when, in 1970, it was released as a film, for which Crowley wrote the screenplay. The play’s director, Robert Moore, won a Drama Desk Award, and Cliff Gorman, who played Emory, received an Obie Award for performance in an Off-Broadway theater. The play was also included in several anthologies of “best plays” of the 1960’s.

Later the same year, Crowley’s next play, Remote Asylum, was produced in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theatre and evoked no favorable comment. Set in Acapulco, it presents a hodgepodge of unlikely sycophants to a has-been female film star. The characters strike out at one another in ways that again recall the bickering of Albee’s characters in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but the play does not have Albee’s strong central premise to justify its sustained shouting, contention, and bitchiness. Remote Asylum did not reach Broadway.

With A Breeze from the Gulf in 1973, Crowley was moving in more productive directions. This highly autobiographical play about an only child between ages seventeen and twenty-five and his parents–the smothering mother addicted to drugs, the indulgent father to alcohol–offers moments of tremendous psychological insight, although much of the time it talks and psychoanalyzes itself to death. The play suggests a considerable talent not totally in control of its medium. Nevertheless, with The Boys in the Band, Crowley had cut through the thicket that blocked the way to frank dramatic presentations of the homosexual lifestyle, and for this pioneering effort he is best remembered.

BibliographyCarlsen, James W. “Images of the Gay Male in Contemporary Drama.” In Gayspeak: Gay Male and Lesbian Communication, edited by James W. Chesebro. New York: Pilgrim Press, 1981. A serious examination of the effects of Crowley’s play on social perceptions of homosexuals in the early 1970’s, and of subsequent changes in the dramatic interpretations of gay characters, such as in Lanford Wilson’s Fifth of July (pr., pb. 1978) and Martin Sherman’s Bent (pr., pb. 1979).DeGaetani, John L. A Search for a Postmodern Theater: Interviews with Contemporary Playwrights. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. Discusses The Boys in the Band, especially Michael’s Catholicism; Crowley notes that, as of 1991, the “Catholic Church still teaches that homosexual practices are a sin.” Good update on Crowley’s views on gay rights, homophobia, Cardinal John Joseph O’Connor, and AIDS.Epstein, Hap. Review of For Reasons That Remain Unclear by Mart Crowley. Washington, D.C., Times, November 15, 1993. Epstein points out that whether or not the play holds autobiographical clues, the playwright’s drought is over. Citing the play as “particularly good and gutsy,” he commends Crowley’s treatment of the issue of child molestation and the Catholic priesthood.Feingold, Michael. “Queerly Beloved.” Village Voice 27 (July 2, 1996): 82. Includes a review of The Boys in the Band. Feingold dismisses as minor flaws the drama’s plot contrivances and datedness of 1968 gay types held up for comparison with 1996. He praises Crowley as the first and most effective anthologist of gay urban behavior.Kroll, Gerry. “And the Band Played On.” Advocate 708 (July 28, 1996): 47. Kroll profiles Crowley’s career leading up to the success of The Boys in the Band and his thoughts of writing a sequel. Crowley’s reaction to the 1968 performance is discussed; the playwright felt the play was unfairly criticized as being pessimistic and cited the characters of Hank and Larry as reflecting a positive relationship.Raymond, Gerard. “Boys Will Be Boys: Crowley’s Characters Get a Second Opinion.” Village Voice 25 (July 2, 1996): 83. Discusses the 1996 revival, its actors and their opinions about their characters, the drama’s issues, and the audience’s reaction.Rouseck, J. Wynn. “‘Reasons’ Finds Mystery Outside the Confessional.” Baltimore Sun, November 16, 1993. Cites that the play is Crowley’s first in nine years, and deals courageously with controversial issues within the Catholic Church. Rouseck notes that on the same day the play opened, and the day after, two scandals concerning Catholic clergy and sexual abuse occurred.Scheie, Timothy. “Acting Gay in the Age of Queer: Pondering the Revival of Boys in the Band.” Modern Drama 42 (Spring, 1999): 1-15. Scheie defines the attitude and persona of the gay spectator, the queer spectator, and the humanist spectator. He notes that all three audience types will come together to watch The Boys in the Band in a shared recognition of history, desire, and constraint.
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