Fredericksburg Theatre Ensemble is in the midst of its two-week run of “The Boys in the Band” at its Caroline Street theater in downtown Fredericksburg.
The show is a unique local celebration of LGBTQ pride at a theater that takes great pride in the array of work it brings to the area.
According to FTE executive director Brandon Carr, the organization focuses on shows that are “weird” for a typical community theater.
He said FTE seeks to provide a little bit more risk for theatergoers.
In that tradition, “The Boys in the Band” is intended for mature audiences. And in general, Carr said, they try to nudge audience into discomfort to evoke new feeling for performing arts.
“There’s a lot of value in shows that don’t do that,” he said. “But we have made our mission to bring something different to Fredericksburg.”
Mart Crowley’s “The Boys in the Band” tells the story of Michael throwing a birthday party for his friend, Harold, in his Upper East Side apartment.
Drugs, alcohol and a street hustler named Cowboy complicate the party, which becomes even more tense during a game of “truth.”
“The Boys in the Band” premiered off-Broadway in 1968 and ran for more than 1,000 performances. And in 2018, the show made its Broadway debut with an entirely gay cast, including Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto and Andrew Rannells. It recently won the Tony Award for best revival of a play. A film version will air on Netflix in 2020.
Starting last season, FTE began putting on one show a month, which Carr said is “exhausting” but “really satisfying.” He can have four plays at work at a time—between auditions, rehearsals, set building and a full production onstage.
“The Boys in the Band” was picked by the artistic director and director of the show Adrienne Carr for June, specifically.
“We really wanted to have a pride-related show for pride month,” Brandon Carr said.
The Broadway revival fell on the 50th anniversary of the show, which itself was historic. It was the first time “a mainstream audience saw a stage full of gay men, all of them different and nuanced, not monsters or caricatures,” Carr said.
He said that wherever an audience member is coming from for this production, he hopes it is a place of understanding for these flawed characters and the historical moment they lived in.
The play’s original premiere in 1968 was just a year before the Stonewall riots. Carr said FTE recently realized that made their performance this weekend on the 50th anniversary of the riots, during which the gay community demonstrated against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969.
He said watching the production “shows how far we’ve come, and how not.”
But “The Boys in the Band” isn’t just about making a statement. Carr said there is also a real appreciation of language in the play, with dialogue like poetry that interplays and builds.
In the spirit of community theater, the play has come together in spite of turnover in the main parts and tricky set design. Adrienne Carr stepped in to play the role of Emory. She joins a cast of familiar faces in community theater: Damian Leone as Michael; Richard Halenda as Donald; Trip Lloyd as Larry; Andy Braden as Hank; Wilson Pezzuto as Bernard; Kendall Khan as Alan; Zechariah Beale as Cowboy; and David Denyer as Harold.
The play requires a two-story set, which the group has accomplished by building out a new part of the stage and creative lighting, Carr said, which was no small task.
FTE’s space has been growing ever since they moved to the top floor of the Shops at 810 on Caroline Street two years ago. It now has a bar that serves wine and beer, and space that functions for the wide number of uses they need at one time.
“The Boys in the Band” and the crew’s dedication to staging it is the sort of blind, community-based ambition that makes FTE a special place for theater in the region.