Entertainment » Theatre

Talking With One of the 'Boys in the Band' :: Michael Benjamin Washington

by Steve Duffy
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday May 11, 2018

Before there were marches, there was a band.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the fiercely funny and groundbreaking play "The Boys In The Band" will appear on Broadway for the first time in a strictly limited 15-week engagement this spring.

Mart Crowley's landmark 1968 play centers on a group of gay men who gather in a New York City apartment for a friend's birthday party. After the drinks are poured and the music turned up, the evening slowly exposes the fault lines beneath their friendships and the self-inflicted heartache that threatens their solidarity. A true theatrical game-changer, "The Boys In The Band" helped spark a revolution by putting gay men's lives onstage - unapologetically and without judgment - in a world that was not yet willing to fully accept them.

What's unique about the starry cast, which includes Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Robin DeJesus, Brian Hutchison, Charlie Carver, Michael Benjamin Washington and Tuc Watkins, is that they are all out. (The production is directed by another out Broadway veteran, Tony-winner Joe Mantello.)

In the play Washington plays Bernard, the sole African-American party-goer. The Broadway veteran ("Mamma Mia," "La Cage Aux Folles") and television star ("30 Rock," "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt") spoke to EDGE recently about this historic production.

Just telling a story

EDGE: What is it like to work with an all-out cast?

Michael Benjamin Washington: I guess it's wonderful. I get to work with a cast of guys who are professional and well-mannered. The component of sexuality has never entered the conversation. We are just actors telling a story.

EDGE: What was your first reaction when you were cast in the 50th anniversary of this landmark play?

Michael Benjamin Washington: I was extremely excited to be part of this show. I have seen everything that Mart Crowley has done. His works are amazing and I am glad to finally be a piece of his puzzle.

EDGE: When "Boys in the Band" first premiered back in 1968, sodomy was still a crime and the Stonewall riots were still a year away. How has the story and/or the dialogue changed to fit in today's world?

Michael Benjamin Washington: The story hasn't change. It's timeless and I believe it still stands the test of time.

EDGE: Which character do you play?

Michael Benjamin Washington: I play Bernard. He is a great character and I am looking forward to bringing him to life on stage.

We fight!

EDGE: How did you prepare for your role?

Michael Benjamin Washington: For me, it really helped that I am also a playwright. I am able to look at all views of the story and character. When I first got the script, I kept reading it over and over again. I really needed to figure out how my character fits into the story and what he brings to the table.

EDGE: As a community, we have made great strides moving forward, but there has been a lot of recent backward thinking and harmful thinking. How do we continue to move in this current political climate?

Michael Benjamin Washington: We keep doing what we are doing - we fight! Remembering the stories of our elders and by keeping the path that they paved for us clear so the next generation can continue to march for our rights.

EDGE: Do you think the play would have the same effect on audiences if it was performed by an all straight male cast?

Michael Benjamin Washington: I do. The story is more about being humans and less about sexuality. At the end of the night, it really doesn't matter who you go home too. I think the story could be told whether straight or gay. We just happen to be telling the story as gay men with gay themes.

EDGE: Now it's time to spill the dirt, who is the biggest diva in the cast?

Michael Benjamin Washington: Hmmm (he laughs) There are no divas. Everyone leaves their egos at the door. It is really a lot of fun to come to work every day. However, Zachary Quinto's character, Harold, is a big diva!

"Boys in the Band" is now playing at the Booth Theatre through August 11th. For more information on the show and to purchase tickets visit, www.boysintheband.com


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