Torch Song Trilogy
|Torch Song Trilogy|
Broadway promotional poster
|Written by||Harvey Fierstein|
|Date premiered||January 15, 1982|
|Place premiered||Actors' Playhouse, Greenwich Village, New York City|
|Setting||1970s, 1980s New York City|
Torch Song Trilogy is a collection of three plays by Harvey Fierstein rendered in three acts: International Stud, Fugue in a Nursery, and Widows and Children First! The story centers on Arnold Beckoff, a Jewish homosexual, drag queen, and torch singer who lives in New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The four-hour play begins with a soliloquy in which he explains his cynical disillusionment with love.
Each act focuses on a different phase in Arnold's life. In the first, Arnold meets Ed, who is uncomfortable with his bisexuality. In the second, one year later, Arnold meets Alan, and the two settle down into a blissful existence that includes plans to adopt a child, until tragedy strikes. In the third, several years later, Arnold is a single father raising gay teenager David. Arnold is forced to deal with his mother's intolerance and disrespect when she visits from Florida.
The first act derives its name (International Stud) from an actual gay bar of the same name at 117 Perry Street in Greenwich Village in the 1960s and 1970s. The bar had a backroom where men engaged in anonymous sex. The backroom plays a central role in the act.
The award-winning and popular work broke new ground in the theatre: "At the height of the post-Stonewall clone era, Harvey challenged both gay and straight audiences to champion an effeminate gay man's longings for love and family."
The first staging of International Stud opened on February 2, 1978 at La MaMa, E.T.C., an Off-Off-Broadway theater, where it ran for two weeks. The Off-Broadway production opened on May 22, 1978 at the Players Theatre, where it ran for 72 performances.
The first staging of Fugue in a Nursery opened at LaMama on February 1, 1979.
Torch Song Trilogy first opened at the uptown Richard Allen Center in October 1981, produced by The Glines. On January 15, 1982 it transferred to the Actors' Playhouse in Greenwich Village, where it ran for 117 performances, produced by The Glines. The cast included Fierstein as Arnold, Joel Crothers as Ed, Paul Joynt as Alan, Matthew Broderick as David, Diane Tarleton as Laurel/Lady Blues and Estelle Getty as Mrs. Beckoff.
The Broadway production, directed by Peter Pope, opened on June 10, 1982 at the Little Theatre, where it ran for 1,222 performances and 8 previews. Fierstein, Joynt, Tarleton, and Getty were joined by Court Miller as Ed and Fisher Stevens as David and Susan Edwards as Lady Blues. Later in the run, David Garrison and Jonathan Hadary portrayed Arnold, Craig Sheffer was cast as Alan, and Barbara Barrie replaced Getty.
The play won Fierstein two Tony Awards, for Best Play (with John Glines' historic Tony speech that acknowledged his lover and co-producer Larry Lane) and Best Actor in Play; two Drama Desk Awards, for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Actor in a Play; and the Theatre World Award.
In late January 2009, it was revived at the American Theatre of Actors Sargent Theatre in New York City by Black Henna Productions. Directed by Malini Singh McDonald, ran as a limited engagement until February 1, 2009, with each act being performed separately on weeknights and the entire series running on Saturdays and Sundays. The cast featured Cas Marino as Arnold, Ian M. McDonald as Ed, Susan Erenberg as Lady Blues, Christian Thomas as Alan, Amie Backner as Laurel, Chris Kelly as David, and Mary Lynch as Mrs. Beckoff.
Torch Song Trilogy was produced by The Studio Theatre in Washington, DC as part of its subscription series September – October 2013. It was directed by Michael Kahn, artistic director of The Shakespeare Theatre, also in Washington, DC.
In the fall of 2017, a significantly revised version of the play, cut down by Fierstein from its original four-plus hours to two hours and forty-five minutes and retitled simply Torch Song, was produced Off Broadway by Second Stage Theatre, with Michael Urie as Arnold and Mercedes Ruehl as Mrs. Beckoff, and directed by Moises Kaufman. In October 2018, the Urie-led production transferred to the Hayes Theater on Broadway. The revival-transfer had its first preview on Tuesday October 9, 2018 and had its opening performance on Thursday November 1, 2018. The production had its final performance on Sunday January 6, 2019 playing for 13 weeks for a total of 26 previews and 77 regular performances.
In December 2018 (shortly before closing), the producers of the broadway revival led by Richie Jackson announced a national tour starting in the Fall of 2019 at the Center Theater Group in Los Angeles, starring Michael Urie as Arnold Beckoff.
International Stud first premiered in 1978 at La MaMa, where Fierstein made his professional acting debut in Andy Warhol's play Pork in 1971. Mel Gussow of The New York Times panned the play as a "sincere but sentimentalized view of a transvestite extremes." Despite the criticism, Ellen Stewart, founder of La MaMa, chose to produce A Fugue in the Nursery and Widows and Children First! in 1979, though she personally found the work "too talky." The Glines, a nonprofit organization dedicated to forwarding gay-themed cultural endeavors, financially supported Fierstein in reworking the three one-act plays as a singular theatrical event, which became Torch Song Trilogy and earned excited praise from Mel Gussow. "Arnold's story becomes richer as it unfolds," he wrote, saying that Fierstein's performance "[was] an act of compelling virtuosity."
Responses from teaching
The central character of this play, Arnold, is a sharp-tongued, nurturing, compassionate, vulnerable, and he is someone who is unable to act normal around his mother, his lovers, and his adopted son because he loves each so dearly. This play allows readers to look beyond the invisible cultural assumptions and make it a comfortable experience. A teacher from a high school in Texas decided to add Torch Song Trilogy in his curriculum. He felt the play was particularly important to teach due to the comfort that society feels in being silent about subjects relating to sexuality. The teacher is convinced that silence can only hurt chances of young adults who are emerging whole during their school years. This play was chosen to educate the students that love comes in all forms. The writing of this play is innovative and the structure of the play itself is unique that it offers ideas for students to explore and expand their ideas on how to creatively write. Fierstein displayed the relationship between Arnold and his son, as well as his partner in a way that the society considers “normal”.
Fierstein adapted his play for a feature film, released in 1988. It was directed by Paul Bogart and starred Fierstein (Arnold), Anne Bancroft (Ma Beckoff), Matthew Broderick (Alan), Brian Kerwin (Ed), and Eddie Castrodad (David).
Awards and nominations
- 1983 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play
- 1983 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play (Harvey Fierstein)
- 1983 Tony Award for Best Play (Harvey Fierstein)
- 1983 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play (Harvey Fierstein)
- 1982 Drama Critics' Circle Award Runner-Up Best American Play
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