COMMENTARY: Capturing Rainbows member Brian Hutchison appeared in "The Boys in the Band", a limited run production that appeared on Broadway at the Booth Theatre in NYC in the summer of 2019. We asked Brian to share a few words about being in the show during its run. "The Boys in the Band" (the play) is an important part of our history. This latest production was truly stunning. – Mike and Tom
Watching The Boys in The Band film in my early thirties was brutal—I’m not even sure I made it the whole way through. It felt so sad, so bleak, so unlike my life up to that point, and I wanted nothing to do with that sort of life. I wasn’t ready for it. I was only able to understand or relate to a couple of the characters: Hank, who had left his wife a few years earlier, and Alan, who was so clearly troubled and in denial about his own feelings, and so unable to move past this and toward a more fulfilling life. I wasn’t fully out at the time and seeing this movie confirmed my fears that this was what my life could become.
Growing up in the 1980s, Pittsburgh wasn’t the most liberal or accepting of environments. I always felt like I had to fit into the strict parameters of what was acceptable. I had love and support throughout my life from family and friends, but I feared that might be conditional. So, I stifled any feelings of attraction to men I had at that time.
My feelings were further compounded with the death of my oldest brother when I was nine. Our formerly vibrant household of three boys became more silent as everyone retreated into their own corners to grieve in private. My sense of loss was profound and became intertwined with my attraction to men. I often felt like I was seeking to find the brother I’d lost—even more so as I watched his friends grow older, go off to college, and move into the world. As a result, I felt singularly isolated in my own life. Among my own friends, I felt a sense of waiting to exhale and wishing to be as comfortable in my own skin as they seemed to be in theirs.
As I grew older, acting became a great outlet for me. It gave me some sense of control and ownership of my life—accessing different parts of myself that I’d hidden away. I could move and speak freely onstage in a way that I never could in real life.
Being an actor and being gay are both aspects of myself—one chosen and the other hardwired—that required years of internal struggle, understanding, disappointment, rejection, and eventually reconciliation and acceptance. I knew after college that I wanted to pursue acting, but fully admitting to myself that I was gay took much longer. As actors, we seek truth through imaginary circumstances. As I became a better, more experienced actor, it became so clear to me that I needed to live my own life with the same truth and freedom I felt on stage—to take my life fully in my arms and risk losing anyone who wasn’t okay with that. It was a painful, but ultimately rewarding, journey of sharing my true self with friends, loved ones, peers, and coworkers.
A while back, I said to myself that I’d love to play a character who is really okay with being gay, where shame or struggle isn’t involved, something I had grown to experience in my own life. Soon afterward, I acted in Paul Rudnick’s play Big Night, as a gay man in a great relationship. I loved playing a character who happens to be gay and is well adjusted and happy with his life.
So, it was somewhat out of left field to be offered a role as a man struggling with his sexual identity in the newBroadway production of The Boys In the Band. But, the chance to work with Joe Mantello, the finest director on Broadway, and this tremendous cast made it a no-brainer. Once they reached out and asked me to play the role, I was flooded with texts from friends already cast in the show—there was so much love and excitement about the opportunity to work together before we’d even started rehearsing. A photoshoot soon followed and months later we rehearsed in LA in a whirlwind process for three weeks.
The experience has been charmed from the start. Rehearsal was a blast, working closely with all the cast members and “falling in love” in the way that happens in the best of theatrical experiences. Unexpectedly, I discovered a common ground, working with all gay men, unlike anything I’d ever experienced in my career—there was a lack of filter and, though we all grew up under vastly different circumstances, we all had similar reference points. There is joy, love, kindness, support, empathy, and a decided lack of ego, knowing we all want the play to succeed. And, then, there is the understanding in a play like this with so many strong characters, that we all get our moments, then pass the baton, and on and on. In the best circumstances as an actor, you feel when something is good, but, it was clear here that we were creating something great.
The move into the theater was quick and, after a few days of tech (adding lighting, sound, the set, and costumes), the show was ready to begin previews. There were so many memorable moments that first night. From our dressing room hallway, we listened over the monitor. Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer opened the show and immediately we heard the rolling laughter—the audience was going nuts. The laughter continued from there. The audience sat transfixed throughout the entire performance. And, while we reminded ourselves that first-night audiences were maybe not the most honest barometer, it was clear the next night and from the performances that followed that our audiences were ready for this—to watch a play that represents a world and a time when being gay wasn’t accepted and when people couldn’t live their lives honestly, or if they did, were fearful of losing their families, friends, and livelihood.
The play feels different than what I remember seeing in the 1970 film version of The Boys in the Band. The script is the same as the original, but it seems much funnier, more poignant, and more profound to me now. There is a timelessness to our show. While it still takes place in 1968, the set, costumes and direction suggest an unspecified time in the past. What could have felt like a period piece, has become a classic—the audience no longer has to see this as the single representation of gay life, but rather as a benchmark of an era about to undergo cultural liberation. When the play first opened in 1968, ticket buyers shielded their faces leaving the box office at the theater. The same was true for the film’s release in 1970. It was a secret curiosity for so many men to see their lives (or, in many cases, the lives they couldn’t bring themselves to lead) represented on stage and in film.
Today, there is so much more societal acceptance. The play still goes to the same deep, dark, excruciating places as the original did, but we no longer fear we will end up like those portrayed in the show.
Shortly after the play opened, the Stonewall riots erupted, giving rise to the gay rights movement, followed a decade later by the emergence of the AIDS epidemic. A heroic response to the AIDS outbreak by gay men, lesbians, and their allies was the catalyst for the LGBTQ community’s fight for and eventual victory in winning its civil rights. This chain of events has empowered all of us to live more fulfilling lives. There is a famous line in the play that, for me, encapsulates so much of what has changed, and what “Boys In The Band” helped depict by providing audiences with an early window into LGBTQ lives: “If we could only learn to not hate ourselves so very much.”
We are surrounded with love and support at the stage door nightly. A man in his eighties approaches me, unable to speak. His partner tells me how much it means for them to see their lives represented on stage so movingly, while his partner nods and cries. Peter White, who played Alan in the movie version in 1970, is wearing the same tuxedo to our opening night that he’d worn in the original film. The next night he wears the shoes that belonged to Frederick Combs, the original Donald (who along with four other cast members of the original 1978 Broadway play, as well as the director, died of AIDS just a few years later). Another man thanks me for signing his teenage son’s poster. Next to him, his son is wearing a shirt sold in the lobby that simply says MARY. A woman asks how many twelve-year-old girls we get at the show, because her daughter, also standing next to her, came out the year before and really wanted to see this play. Another woman grabs my hand as I’m signing playbills and whispers that her son just yesterday told her he is gay. A sixteen-year-old boy tells me he feels so lucky that this is his first Broadway show. And another elderly man thanks me, as I sign his Playbill: “You are why I marched…its the fulfillment of a dream, a hope. I knew the characters in the show. They brought me out. And thank you. It is a good day to be me!”
There is a pride and ownership that people feel in seeing their history represented. And then there is the pride and emotion I feel when our costume designer unexpectedly asks if I’d mind wearing my own wedding ring in the play—stated so matter of factly, as if it’s a given.
Each night, I walk on stage and whisper a silent prayer to those no longer with us, friends and fellow actors who have died of AIDS, and to all the people who have cared for them. It’s been fifty years since the original Broadway cast courageously took on these roles as gay men, a career-ending move for many actors at the time. Their welcome spirits loom large before all of us onstage. We are each the stewards of these roles we inhabit for this very brief moment in time. But I know from the experience we’re each having on stage and from the audience’s response that this play will resonate for years.