Mart Crowley, ‘Boys in the Band’ Playwright, Dies at 84

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Mart Crowley, whose 1968 play, “The Boys in the Band,” put gay characters and their stories front and center in a way that had rarely been seen in a mainstream New York theater, died on Saturday night in Manhattan. He was 84.

His friend David Cuthbert said the cause was complications of heart surgery.

Where previous plays and movies often tiptoed around a character’s homosexuality or, worse, demonized gay characters, Mr. Crowley’s play presented gay men talking forthrightly and in depth about their lives. It featured nine men at a birthday party in which alcohol flowed and conversation grew brutally honest as a result.

“The power of the play,” Clive Barnes wrote in his review in The New York Times, “is the way in which it remorselessly peels away the pretensions of its characters and reveals a pessimism so uncompromising in its honesty that it becomes in itself an affirmation of life.”

The play, opening more than a year before the Stonewall Inn uprising in Greenwich Village, a catalyst of the gay-rights movement, gave new visibility to the world it depicted, with the show drawing both gay and straight audience members, including high-profile ones like Jacqueline Kennedy and Mayor John V. Lindsay. Staged at Theater Four on West 55th Street in Manhattan, it ran for more than two years and more than 1,000 performances.

Fifty years later, the play finally made it to Broadway, in a revival directed by Joe Mantello and featuring a starry cast. The production won the Tony Award for best revival.

A complete obituary will be published shortly.


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