Audiences have been treated to at least one Joe Mantello–helmed work every year for the last five years—and usually more than one. Such is the case again this year, with the critically acclaimed revival of Three Tall Women (now nominated for six Tony Awards including Best Revival and one for Mantello’s direction) playing just a few doors down from Mantello’s revival of The Boys in the Band, which officially opens at the Booth Theatre May 31.
From an all-female cast to an all-male cast, two-time Tony winner Mantello left for Band rehearsals in Los Angeles the morning after Three Tall Women opened to raves for what Mantello achieved in its difficult second half—a genuine feat of directorial derring-do—and its trio of leading ladies: Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf, and Alison Pill. The former two just earned Tony nods for their performances in the work and the latter two have worked with Mantello before, exemplars of what Mantello calls “fearless and ferocious actors.”
“When you meet those people, I want to be around them more,” he says, sitting in the empty Golden Theatre a few hours before a performance of Three Tall Women. “There are plenty of other actors who are wonderful that just don’t work in a way that I work, or our methods aren’t necessarily compatible. But then there are those you instinctually just are drawn to.”
His Boys belong in that category, as well. Starring a who’s who of out A-list actors (Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Charlie Carver, Robin De Jesús, Brian Hutchison, Michael Benjamin Washington, and Tuc Watkins), this is Mantello’s opportunity to reclaim Mart Crowley’s groundbreaking play from the dustbin of history.
Set in an apartment during one hellish birthday party, Boys in the Band finds a room full of gay men sniping at one another and at themselves as the liquor flows. The reputation of the play has undergone a curious metamorphosis since it premiered in 1968, Mantello points out: “It was heralded at the very beginning and within two years it was completely dismissed. And then we were ashamed of the play and then we were angry about the play and then there was a reconsideration of the play.” He pauses. “It will be interesting to see what people make of this particular production at this particular time.”
There’s also an important point that few people take the time to make about Boys and its era: “The criticism is always about these self-loathing gay men, so in some way the characters are vilified as opposed to the society that they exist in,” Mantello says. “And yet, on some level, plays like Boys in the Band have made it OK for people to criticize Boys in the Band.”