Pictured: Cast of TORCH SONG TRILOGY. Photo courtesy of The Barn Players.
By Marissa Carter
TORCH SONG TRILOGY, by Harvey Fierstein, was originally written as three short plays that follow Arnold Beckoff, a gay drag queen, through different stages of his life as he attempts to navigate love, relationships, intolerance, and acceptance in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The complex story is told using several theatrical styles in three separate acts.
Act 1, “International Stud,” is set in 1978. Monologues and short two-person scenes introduce the two main characters and the lifestyles they live as gay men. When Arnold (Philip blue owl Hooser) meets Ed Reiss (Derrick Freeman) it seems as if he has found the loving connection he has always dreamed of. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that Ed is struggling with his own bisexual identity, and may not be able to offer the love that Arnold needs.
The staging of this act is simple and well spaced. The action is spread between backstage areas, apartments, clubs and backrooms, and the stage is sectioned accordingly, which allows for a smooth transition between locations. The club scenes are accented by ensemble dancers in excellent costumes. But in spite of the fact that the show looks good, the focus on the dancers themselves and the addition of singers between scenes make it hard to distinguish who the main characters are until about halfway through. Additionally, several of the performances lack polish, taking focus away from the more poignant moments and making it hard to immediately attach to the characters.
Act 2, “Fugue in a Nursery,” takes place a year later after both Arnold and Ed have moved on to other relationships. Ed’s “lover” Laurel (Jennifer Loumiet) invites Arnold to the country house where she and Ed spend their weekends. Arnold agrees to come on the condition that he can bring Alan (Brent Custer), a young model who he is in a serious relationship with.
This act takes place almost entirely on and around a bed. The costuming and props are all white, lending intimacy and innocence to each scene as the well-written dialogue takes the story deeper. The entire act is successfully executed. The four character’s lines are interspersed, creating multiple meanings and giving the audience a sound understanding of the feelings and motivations behind each relationship. The staging is equally clever, using character placements to emphasize the ideas that are being expressed.
Act 3, “Widows and Children First!,” takes place in 1984, after many changes have taken place in all of the characters’ lives. The entire act is set in Arnold’s apartment, where he now lives with his foster son David (Alex Leondedis). Arnold, Ed, and David are preparing for a visit from Arnold’s mother, Mrs. Beckoff (Ellie Deshon), who arrives early and brings plenty of personal baggage. It is in this third act that we get to experience the pure heart of the show. Arnold’s interactions with his mother, David and Ed are captivating, emotional, and ultimately rewarding as each of them presents a different challenge and forces Arnold to look deep into himself for the answers.
The script does not shy away from difficult subject matter here, forcing the audience to recognize the challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community—the dangers of coming out, the pain of intolerance masked by thin acceptance, the constant judgment, and even the question of who is really worthy of being loved.
The three acts combined have a running time of almost three hours, and the story is well worth the time.
TORCH SONG TRILOGY is playing at the James & Marjory Russell Theatre at The Arts Asylum through June 10, 2018.