Do we still need Torch Song Trilogy?
We’ve come a long way since 1981, when Torch Song Trilogy broke new ground with its presentation of homosexual men who wanted (gasp!) the option to have stable lives and loving families. The protagonist Arnold Beckoff is a drag queen, but not an alien. Minds were blown. Playwright and actor Harvey Fierstein wasn’t the first one to disrupt the stereotype of homosexuals as hairdressing robots/perverted sex machines, but he was the first to turn a profit when he carried the message to Broadway.
Thirty one years later, DOMA has sashayed away and Minnesota just became the 13th state to recognize same-sex marriages. A pair of men just pushed their bundle of adopted joy past my neighborhood café, and while their little munchkin elicited an inordinate amount of hysterical cooing from my fellow patrons, not a brow was raised at the adoring fathers.
Meanwhile, on stage, the tribulations of same-sex couples are about as shocking as a plastic lawn chair. As Studio Theatre launches its revival of Fierstein’s landmark play, I couldn’t help but ask: in 2013 in the District of Columbia, do we still need Torch Song Trilogy?
The answer is yes. Yes, yes, yes. Yes because egalitarianism still has a long way to go. Yes because we’re sick of gay media assuming that its audience shares the intelligence quotient of plankton. Yes because we all have held out hope for impossible loves. Yes because, at some point, we all have felt like our mothers come down from the hinterlands expressly to insult us—and most of us have felt guilty for feeling that way.
Torch Song Trilogy is universal and utterly American. It’s a comedic family drama in the tradition of Neil Simon—with, as the leading man would say “a few minor alterations.” Add the satirical verve of Alan Ayckbourn and the seedy flavor of Sam Shepard, and you get a play that will live long past 30—and likely longer than any of those comparisons. Add the masterful direction of Michael Kahn and an impassioned cast? You get fireworks.
In the first moments of his performance as of the iconic drag queen Arnold Beckoff, Brandon Uranowitz snatches away all disbelief and refuses to give it back. He renders an incorruptible reality for his audience, making the three-and-a-half hours of Torch Song disappear in an eruption of candor and charisma. Uranowitz captures all the complexity and humanity of Arnold. He is caustic and self-deprecating, but at the same time deeply optimistic.
Under the spell of his masterful performance, we want what Arnold wants. But the greatest pleasure is not that Uranowitz’s Arnold is so frighteningly real; it’s that his Arnold really seems to grow.
In a beautiful transformation, our hero gradually replaces his hopeless dream of love and respect with the unwavering certainty that he deserves them. The performance is nothing short of magical.
Torch Song Trilogy
Closes October 20, 2013
The Studio Theatre
1501 14th St. NW
3 hours, 30 minutes with 2 intermissions
Tickets: $59 – $65
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Propped up by impeccably nuanced, passionate performances from Todd Lawson, Sarah Grace Wilson, Alex Mills, Michael Lee Brown, and Gordana Rashovich as the supporting leads (there are neither small parts nor small actors in this production), Studio Theatre’s revival of Torch Song Trilogy is a volcano of good acting. It makes us feel, makes us think, and nourishes our hope that love and respect for all people is more than a pipe dream.
It’s like Thanksgiving dinner for the heart. Yes, yes, yes we still need Torch Song Trilogy. It’s a beautiful and important play for all humans. I assume that includes you.
Torch Song Trilogy by Harvey Fierstein . Directed by Michael Kahn . Featuring Brandon Uranowitz, Gordana Rashovich, Todd Lawson, Alex Mills, Sarah Grace Wilson, Michael Lee Brown, and Ashleigh King. Scenic design: James Noone . Lighting design: Peter West . Costume design: Frank Labovitz . Sound design, original music and music director: Eric Shimelonis . Produced by Studio Theatre . Reviewed by J. Robert Williams.