Will Huddleston, Lewis Sims, Andrew Nance,and Russ Duffy in The Men From the Boys
Will Huddleston, Lewis Sims, Andrew Nance,
and Russ Duffy in The Men From the Boys
They're baaack! Those consummately bitchy "boys in the band" have resurfaced and they're still in the same living room where we last saw them, only now it's 30 years later. Meet The Men From The Boys, whose tongues are just as sharp as ever even though they each may be pushing 60. Receiving its world premiere at San Francisco's New Conservatory Theatre, Mart Crowley's sequel to his The Boys in the Band is a funny, reflective work. While it doesn't pack the groundbreaking wallop of its predecessor, it has its own poignant charms.

This time around, the occasion for the gathering in Michael's Manhattan duplex is not a birthday but a somber memorial for one of the original "boys," Larry, who has died of pancreatic cancer. Yes, "gay men do die of other things," quips Michael (Russ Duffy). Duffy is out there on a tightrope, balancing bitterness and acuity, winning few sympathy points for the character but keeping things real. What Michael sees in Scott, an unhappy blond youth who has been leeching off him, is not completely evident in Olen Christian Holm's cold performance. Two other young characters have been added to the mix and make for some further intergenerational interaction: Jason (played haughtily by Owen Thomas) serves as a foil to Michael, taunting him with accusations of being outmoded and self-hating; Rick (the refreshing Rajiv Shah), a guitar-playing friend of Larry's, stands out as being the one chap among those assembled who doesn't dole out any bile.

Among the returning "boys" are Donald (Peter Carlstrom, getting some mileage out of his role of a boozing, aging preppie); Hank, Larry's longtime partner (Terry Lamb, who seems a bit stiff even for a stuffed shirt); and Bernard, the lone African American pal (whom Lewis Sims portrays with sass and class). One wonders what has kept these friends a "family" all these years. Perhaps it's the over-the-top antics of those splashy queens Emory and Harold, whose banter remains entertaining even when things get nasty. Michael Patrick Gaffney infuses Emory with a giddy yet heartfelt campiness, while Will Huddleston brings a hilarious if somewhat stagy bravura to Harold.

Not to be outdone by the living, the deceased Larry even gets in on the action in an effective cameo by Andrew Nance. Director Ed Decker has his hands full in moving the cast members around the living room set without making things too claustrophobic, though scenic designer Eric E. Sinkkonen has done a terrific job of adding depth to the apartment with slick, elegant, photographic panels as well as a sliding terrace door and a mirrored bar.

Though it lacks some of the dramatic hinges that made its predecessor so piercing, by the second act of The Men From The Boys, all of the characters have been fleshed out and the story really begins to resonate in spite of the fact that its plot turns are not particularly original. And Crowley is as adept as ever at zingy one-liners (Emory: "The one good thing about Alzheimer's is you get to hide your own Easter eggs") counterbalanced by wistful moments of understanding and resignation.

When Boys in the Band debuted in 1968, it stood by itself and was considered astonishing for its frank depictions of gay characters. With countless gay-themed plays and films having come to light in the ensuing years, not to mention the Will & Grace-ification of major network TV and the presence of Queer as Folk on cable, Crowley can't easily shock us anymore. Instead, he goes for something else: Young gay men grow into old gay men, and that simple realization is both scary and comforting.