BWW Reviews: Torch Song Trilogy at Studio Theatre - More Than Enough

BWW Reviews: Torch Song Trilogy at Studio Theatre - More Than Enough

My first encounter with Harvey Fierstein and Torch Song Trilogy was in the spring of 1983.

On my way to becoming completely stage-struck, I had been a faithful watcher of the Tony Awards telecast most of my high school years. The Tony Awards were my vicarious ticket out of Salem to be able to glimpse the stars and shows that were lighting up Broadway, a place I would not get to visit until after my first year in college. Among the plays nominated for best play that year were Marsha Norman's 'Night Mother and David Hare's Plenty. Another nominee was Torch Song Trilogy by Harvey Fierstein.

I knew a little about what was happening on the Broadway stage due to my frequent visits to the local library where I could devour 'The New York Times' arts section, read reviews in 'Time' and 'Newsweek' and wear out copies of the newest volume of 'Best Plays of ...' I had read about Torch Song Trilogy, for sure, and to me it was about an exotic and far-away subject of which I knew nothing - a homosexual man's view of life and love.

So it was with great interest when I saw Diahann Carroll read the list of nominees for best play on the Tonys only to hear the crowd erupt when Torch Song Trilogy was named the best play. John Glines spoke for the production and ended his speech thanking his partner and his lover. (Sitting nearby, watching the Tony's with me, I believe my mother uttered "Good God, not on TV," under her breath.)

I recount the memory of that Tony night (which I was able to relive again, thanks to YouTube here) to place this play in the perspective of where I was then and where I am now. In 1983, I was a straight 17-year old who had not met an openly gay person, male or female. I knew nothing of the world Harvey Fierstein painted in his three play cycle. My knowledge and understanding of that world has certainly changed over the last 30 years. I have gotten to know many homosexual men, women and young people. While in college, I encouraged a dear friend to come to terms with his sexuality and to stop using his proverbial closet as a revolving door. I have seen friends die of AIDS, while others have lived to marry their partners. We now live in a world where same sex couples can be more open. But being gay can still be a struggle, especially in some states. We know there are countries with anti-gay statutes and the fight rages on for equality on all fronts.

Harvey Fierstein was at the head table of placing gay characters on the stage in the early 1980s.

Seeing Torch Song Trilogy - I shall call it Fierstein's opus - for the first time in Studio Theatre's simple, moving production, his work simply defies the fact that it the roots of the play are more than 30 years old. When a play holds universal truths, they last far beyond an initial run. Torch Song Trilogy is a fine example of this ideal.

Fierstein's semi-doppleganger Arnold Beckoff looks in the mirror and uses it as a truth-telling confessional, begging the audience to peek inside his life and his mind. As big and as flamboyant as he is on stage, Arnold is really just a man looking for love and not just backroom, bend over-take-it-and-clean-up type of love - although there is that, too. Arnold, who confesses to a weakness for older men, even recounts his time with a deaf lover, an ideal situation. ("He ain't never yelled at me, never complained if I snored," Arnold recalled.)

Brandon Uranowitz (Broadway's Baby It's You, national tour of RENT) is a revelation as Arnold. The actor imbues the big-hearted, drag queen with a sense of urgency and honesty while he wrings every laugh and every tear from the journey of a man who seeks the answer to the question, "I just want to be loved, is that so wrong?!"

The first of the one-act plays is "International Stud," set in the seedy club where Arnold performs as Miss Virginia Hamm. For atmosphere, the brilliant piano stylings of George Fulginiti-Shakar are joined by the mysterious muse known simply as Lady Blues - soulfully sung by Ashleigh King. After an extended monologue, Arnold, the drag performer, meets Ed, a closeted, bisexual teacher on the look-out for quick action. Ed, an engaging performance by Todd Lawson, connects with Arnold beyond a one-night stand. But the course of love ne'er runs smooth (or words to that effect) and Arnold and Ed never hit paydirt. But Arnold declares it is "enough."

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Jeffrey Walker Jeff Walker teaches theatre arts in Northern Virginia. He is also an award-winning theatre critic. Currently he is a regular contributor to DC Theatre Scene and Broadway World's DC region. He also writes Stage Views, a regular column for the theatre reviews and views for the Culpeper Times. Jeff is also an experienced director and actor and has performed in musicals, Shakespeare, classics, operettas, and contemporary works.

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