In between Mart Crowleyís first staging of the play and William Friedkinís filming of it, there was Stonewall -- the patio wall graffiti ("Summer 1968") situates the production as a period piece, or, rather, a transition piece. The timbre amalgamates Edward Albee and Neil Simon, the overture pays tribute to a New York in uneasy flux (fashion shoots and midnight cowboys, Robert Taylor portraits hanging on tavern walls). The setting is an all-gay soiree. The dueling sharpshooters are the "masterpiece of deception" host (Kenneth Nelson) and the "ugly, pock marked Jew fairy" birthday boy (Leonard Frey); Nelsonís good-natured chum-with-benefits (Frederick Combs) co-hosts the affair, guests include an irrepressible flamer (Cliff Gorman), a bookstore clerk (Reuben Greene) and a bickering couple (divorcing family man Laurence Luckinbill and blithe sensualist Keith Prentice). The strangers in the nest are an amiably dim hunk-for-rent (Robert La Tourneaux) and Nelsonís ambiguously straight college friend (Peter White), whose appearance pushes the roundelay of bitchiness toward angst, cruelty, and soul-bearing. "Thanks to the silver screen, your neurosis has got style." Adapting the original queer tragicomedy, Crowley is faced with the trailblazerís quandary: Mainstream society conditions gay people to hate themselves, yet the theatricalization of that self-loathing is a condition for representation in mainstream society. Friedkin evokes the three-act structure visually, modulating from the bluish tint of a Manhattan morning to the glow of Chinese paper lanterns against a dusky background, then for the lacerating "phone game" some stark indoors lighting thatís vaguely movie-horrorish (Nelsonís breakdown receives the handheld POV shot later reused in The Exorcist). Amid all this sardonic-rueful snipping, the emotion and understanding achieved between Luckinbill and Prentice strike the most hopeful notes, though, as the hostís bitter, door-slamming punchline suggests, thereís still plenty of rough road ahead. Cinematography by Arthur J. Ornitz.
--- Fernando F. Croce