Torch Song Trilogy
by Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Stephen Colyer
Eternity Playhouse until August 26
It’s been thirty-four years since I saw a production of Torch Song Trilogy, Harvey Fierstein’s autobiographical account of the trials, tribulations and emotions of a gay New York drag queen. That production starred the mercurial Tony Sheldon, Deborah-Lee Furness (Mrs Hugh Jackman) and Robert Alexander. It was at a time when society looked sideways at same-sex relationships. Since then they have almost become compulsory in Sydney suburbs close to the city.
Torch Song Trilogy is a look behind the glittering curtain of drag performers, homosexuals, bisexuals and confused sexuals in the early 1980s in New York City. Arnold Beckoff, the central Harvey Fierstein character, is a Jewish drag queen in a group of usual pun names that include Bertha Venation, Marina Del Ray, Virginia Hamm and Bang Bang LaDesh.
Arnold is desperate to settle down and have a family but is having perceived difficulties because of his sexuality and lifestyle. One of his many encounters is with Ed, who seems confused about his own sexuality. Arnold eventually meets Alan, a handsome young model and Ed hooks up with Laurel who is aware of Ed’s past relationship with Arnold. To clear the air, Laurel invites Ed and Alan to stay with them, which opens a can of worms. The last part of the trilogy is set in the home of Arnold and his almost-adopted son, David. Having separated from Laurel, Ed is temporarily staying with them. To advance the plot, enter Ma, Arnold’s stereotypical Jewish mother, complete with a full itinerary of guilt trips. The dialogue between Arnold and Ma is the most powerful part of the play.
The extraordinarily talented cast includes Simon Corfield (Arnold), Tim Draxl (Ed), Stephen Madsen (Alan), Imraan Daniels (David) and Hilary Cole as Laurel and Lady Blues. All have powerful singing voices as well as acting prowess. As Ma, Kate Raison perfectly nails her role in character and in accent, but I sense that Raison, although the right age, is a bit too glamorous to play a diminutive New York Jewish mother. Perhaps George Costanza’s mother in Seinfeld has set the type too firmly.
Pulling it together musically is the seemingly omnipresent Phil Scott who is the Musical Director and Accompanist. For decades, producers have been able to rely on Scott for his musical skills, creativity and execution; you couldn’t find a more solid and dependable performer.
So does Torch Song Trilogy have the same impact that it had in 1984? Probably not, because of broader community acceptance, but it does hold greater relevance because those issues are now out of the closet and established in our society. It’s less hidden and more mainstream.