Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Torch Song Trilogy"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark

"Torch Song Trilogy"

by Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Paul Campbell

Set Design by Tom Brady
Lighting Design by Artie Leger
Costume Design by Diane Brainerd
Make Up Design by Joy Aliss Cochran, Mark Keller
Properties by Darrick Jackson
Stage Manager Erica Feick

Arnold.....................Ryan C. Pothier
Ed.....................Joshua M. Kehrberg
Laurel.......................Tara Donoghue
Alan...............Eric Rendall Griemann
David.....................John Dean Evans
Mrs. Beckoff.................Anna Brown
Radio Announcer.............Bill Bowen

Saturday, 25 September, 1999: Let me admit up front that I saw this show open, which was just last Friday, 17 September, and it was, everyone admitted backstage, the worst opening night in modern memory. I saw more missed light-cues, dropped lines, ad-lib saves, unexpected cuts, and terrified actors in that one night than I had all year, and since I knew the show wasn't ready I told everyone I'd be back. Tonight, I was astonished at how well the show had pulled together in so short a time. It still runs four hours, but every moment of the performance is packed with surprises. It's like night and day, and I'm glad I gave it a second chance. Luckily, there's still one more week-end left in the run.

Harvey Fierstein's script is actually three interconnected plays about the six-year episodic on/off love affair of Arnold (Ryan C. Pothier), who makes his living as a torch-singing drag queen, and Ed (Joshua M. Kehrberg), a bi-sexual schoolteacher incapable of commitment to anyone. Try as they might they cannot give each other up, and their ultimate admission is that, despite the hells they put one another through, they are less happy apart than together. What a universally human insight to end with!

In Part One ("The International Stud"), done in monologues, phone-calls and confrontations (including a simulated anal-intercourse encounter in a back-room bar that is screamingly funny), the two major characters set the pattern for their bumpy road to love.

Part Two ("Fugue in A Nursery") has Ed and his wife Laurel (Tara Donoghue) entertaining Arnold and his new young model lover Alan (Eric Rendall Griemann) for a week-end at their upstate New York farmhouse. This is played on a gigantic stage-sized quadruple-bed, each side of which represents a different room. The interweaving dialogue here is truly fugally written in a quick-cut cinematic style that works wonderfully on stage.

For Part Three ("Widows And Children First"), Arnold confronts his un-reconciled Jewish mother (Anna Brown) about his being gay. It's not a choice but a fact, he insists, for which he will not apologize and cannot feel ashamed. Here Arnold is about to adopt a fifteen-year-old ex street-hustler (John Dean Evans) in whom he is trying to instil some informed pride in being gay --- in the middle of Momma's unconvinced visit. The most like a straight play of the three, this situation (with a near-divorce Ed camped on the sofa) boils all the problems of gay life into one tempestuous no-holds-barred argument.

Feirstein's dialogue sparkles with scintillating self-satire and deadly one-liners, but when the subtext surfaces it is the search for real love and the demand for individual dignity that blaze forth. The cast whips through it at a gallop that Director Paul Campbell has given a shape and a point --- something not apparent on that disastrous tech/dress/opening night last week.

I am glad I came back for this second look.


"Torch Song Trilogy" (till 2 October)
7A Eliot Street, JAMAICA PLAIN

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide