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Modern Drama  
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The Turning Point: Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band

The enormous success of Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band (1968) was a turning point for gay drama. Strongly influenced by Edward Albee's closeted Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf in its extremes of camp comedy and melodrama and its focus on game playing, The Boys in the Band is the first commercial play to be set in a gay household.

In a way, the play can be seen as a somewhat rotten slice of gay history in that it displays not only gay slang and manners of the period just before the Stonewall rebellion, but it shows vividly the ways in which gay men suffered from internalized . There is no gay pride in Mart Crowley's play, only shame and self-hatred. Jealousy, bickering, alcoholism, and regret define the lives of these unhappy men, but at no point do they realize that the enemy is not themselves but the homophobia that shaped them.

The Creation of Gay Theater: Off-Off Broadway

By the time The Boys in the Band became a hit uptown, gay drama was already beginning to change. In Greenwich Village, at the Caffe Cino, where owner Joe Cino had been presenting plays since 1958, a group of young playwrights who had come to New York from various places around the United States began creating unashamedly gay theater for the adventurous audiences who frequented what became known as off-off-Broadway.

Early plays by Doric Wilson, Lanford Wilson (The Madness of Lady Bright [1964]) and Robert Patrick (The Haunted Host [1964]) did not compromise to the prejudices of mainstream, predominantly heterosexual audiences but reflected the courage that would lead to Stonewall. The audience at Caffe Cino was predominantly gay, representing the split that would exist for decades to come between gay-positive theater written for gay audiences and mainstream gay representations that had to take into account the predominantly heterosexual audience before whom they would be performed.

John M. Clum

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literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Although largely invisible to the general public, a large body of twentieth-century gay male literature by American authors was published prior to Stonewall, some of it positive but most of it tinged with misery or bleakness as the price of being published and disseminated.

literature >> Overview:  Contemporary Drama

Since Stonewall, gay and lesbian drama has flourished, especially in the United States.

literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Twentieth-Century

Homosexuality, both male and female, has a rich, divergent, and increasingly open expression in the literature of the twentieth century.

literature >> Overview:  French Literature: Twentieth Century

The contributions of gay men and lesbians to twentieth-century French literature have been closely intertwined with the course of mainstream literature.

literature >> Overview:  German and Austrian Literature: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

With major periodic setbacks, over the last two centuries German-speaking authors have gradually developed a gay and lesbian positive literature.

literature >> Overview:  Musical Theater

There has always been homosexual involvement in American musical theatre and a homosexual sensibility even in straight musicals, and recently the Broadway musical has welcomed openly homosexual themes and situations.

literature >> Overview:  Spanish Literature

Treating homosexuality in Spanish literature is largely a twentieth-century phenomenon, occurring most frequently in the post-Franco decades.

arts >> Overview:  Stage Actors and Actresses

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual actors and actresses are among the elite of contemporary theater, but only recently have many come out publicly.

arts >> Overview:  Theater Companies

Gay and lesbian theater companies attempt to create their own communities, while also fostering a sense of solidarity with the glbtq community and educating the larger society.

literature >> Ackerley, J. R.

A twentieth-century British editor who fostered the careers of a number of important gay writers, J. R. Ackerley also wrote a small but significant body of gay literature that includes memoirs and drama.

literature >> Albee, Edward

The American dramatist Edward Albee, whose career flourished in the 1960s and then waned as a result of homophobia, wrote plays with gay subtexts in which loving is the ultimate act of violence and violence is the most effective expression of love.

literature >> Brecht, Bertolt

Germany's most celebrated and influential dramatist of the twentieth century, Brecht depicted homosexual desire in his early writings, where it is cloaked in ambiguity and tied to issues of power.

literature >> Coward, Sir Noël

Although Coward's plays are about heterosexual couples, they are written in the language and spirit of camp and reject traditional domestic values.

arts >> Coward, Sir Noël

Accomplished playwright, actor, composer, and lyricist, Sir Noël Coward was also a singer and cabaret performer; he dominated the British stage between the world wars, then reoriented his career in the direction of America.

literature >> Crowley, Mart

Playwright Mart Crowley deserves honor for having blazed the trail for gay-themed theater with his 1969 groundbreaking play The Boys in the Band.

literature >> García Lorca, Federico

The works of García Lorca, internationally recognized as Spain's most prominent lyric poet and dramatist of the twentieth century, are filled with thinly veiled homosexual motifs and themes.

literature >> Gide, André

André Gide, one of the premier French writers of the twentieth century, reflected his homosexuality in many of his numerous works.

arts >> Lunt, Alfred (1892-1977), and Lynn Fontanne (1887-1983)

Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were known as the first family of the American theater, but theirs was a lavender marriage and their presentation of themselves as the ideal married couple may have been their greatest performance.

literature >> Marlowe, Christopher

Christopher Marlowe represents homoerotic situations and incidents in his plays and poems more frequently and more variously that any other major English Renaissance writer.

literature >> Orton, Joe

The gay British playwright Joe Orton, an important precursor of the queer literary movement, is perhaps the finest writer of farce in the twentieth century.

literature >> Patrick, Robert

Robert Patrick is a founding father of gay drama in America and an influence in the development of gay drama in England.

arts >> Shaffer, Sir Peter

British dramatist Peter Shaffer emerged in the 1960s in the paradoxical guise of the last great twentieth-century poet of the numinous who was also capable of writing commercially successful plays that could be turned into equally successful films.

literature >> Shakespeare, William

As one of the key figures that western civilization has used to define itself, William Shakespeare stands in a complicated, fiercely contested relationship to homosexuality.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.

literature >> Williams, Tennessee

Conflicted over his own sexuality, Tennessee Williams wrote directly about homosexuality only in his short stories, his poetry, and his late plays.

literature >> Wilson, Doric

A pioneer in the development of contemporary gay theater, Doric Wilson has been instrumental in Off-Off-Broadway theater in New York City since the early 1960s.

literature >> Wilson, Lanford

In his depictions of gay subjects, Lanford Wilson proved himself to be a powerful voice speaking of the lives of gay men.

arts >> Yeomans, Lee Calvin "Cal"

A trailblazer in post-Stonewall gay theater, Cal Yeomans explored sex and sexuality so directly in his critically-acclaimed plays that it made his work difficult to produce even in the gay community.


Clum, John M. Acting Gay: Male Homosexuality in Modern Drama. New York: Columbia, 1992. Revised paperback ed., 1993.

_____. "'Myself of Course': Self-Dramatization in J. R. Ackerley." Theatre (July 1993).

Curtin, Kaier. We Can Always Call Them Bulgarians. Boston: Alyson, 1987.

deJongh, Nicholas. Not in Front of the Audience: Homosexuality on Stage. London: Routledge, 1992.

Fowlie, Wallace. Dionysus in Paris: A Guide to Contemporary French Theater. London: V. Gollancz, 1961.

Lahr, John. Prick Up Your Ears. New York: Knopf, 1978.

Shepherd, Simon. Because We're Queers: The Life and Crimes of Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton. London: Gay Men's Press, 1989.

Stambolian, George and Elaine Marks, eds. Homosexualities and French Literature. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1979.


    Citation Information
    Author: Clum, John M.  
    Entry Title: Modern Drama  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated November 22, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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