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Torch Song Trilogy

Photo by Greg Doyle

Gaiety Theatre in association with Sydney Mardi Gras present TORCH SONG TRILOGY by Harvey Fierstein at Theatre 19 (The old Darlinghurst Theatre venue), by arrangement with ORiGiN Theatrical, on behalf of Samuel French, Inc.

TORCH SONG TRILOGY, by Harvey Fierstein, began as a monologue that became a play called THE INTERNATIONAL STUD. There followed a second play: FUGUE IN A NURSERY and a third: WIDOWS AND CHILDREN FIRST! They then were produced as a collection/trilogy at the Richard Allen Center in October 1981 and then moved to Broadway in 1982 where it played 1,222 performances, winning the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award in 1983 as Best Play, and a Best Actor Award for Harvey Fierstein. It later was made into a movie with Mr Fierstein, Anne Bancroft and Matthew Broderick. Tony Sheldon played Arnold Beckoff in Australia.

Stephen Colyer, the Director:

TORCH SONG TRILOGY remains an iconic story and an important cultural article for its comprehensive portrayal of a gay man’s life and struggles in a pre Aids era. In a time when homosexual characters were vastly under-represented, Arnold Beckoff was notable in that he was not posing a villainous threat, or being trivialised as a subject of comic derision. In the face of discrimination, TORCH SONG TRILOGY, has reassured generations of gay men that they are not alone and pride in one’s self is worth carrying a torch for.

This production gives much respect and life to each of the plays and builds, ultimately, to a rewarding night in the theatre as a trilogy. The comedy is rich and gentle, the drama is full of pathos and avoids, mostly, sentimentality (sometimes the pre-recorded underscored scene music nearly tips into error). Simon Corfield treading in the formidable footprints of Mr Fierstein and Mr Sheldon, makes a considerable impression with his performance, cumulatively, such that it supersedes my memories of both those other artists, whom I saw, respectively on Broadway and the Seymour Centre. I think I enjoyed this production more than the other two. I had a surprisingly good time – I had not anticipated that it would be such an easy and enjoyable night.

There is a steady and compassionate trajectory in the playing of Arnold by Mr Corfield through the three different stylistic demands of the form in the trilogy of plays. Mr Corfield’s sure-centredness holds the work into a naturalistic reality that transcends the danger of the plays building into a big gay soap opera. Instead, he signals clearly, with wonderful support from his fellow players a real world where real lives are being lived out with consequences that are hilarious, serious, tragic, joyful, social and political. Theatrical it is, yes, but fundamentally truthful as well, and, after all, that theatricality can be explained when one remembers TORCH SONG is “the chronicle of a Jewish New York drag-queen in a quest for love, respect and a life of which he can be proud of.”

Christian Willis (Ed) the flip flopping bi-sexual, and Belinda Wollaston (Laurel) his straight, but -in-therapy partner, complicate Arnold’s life dramatically; Thom Jordan as Alan the partner of his life, if not true love, gives a kind of stability; and especially Matthew Verevis (David) his adopted son and Amanda Muggleton (Mrs Beckoff) Arnold’s mother, all contribute, under the direction of Mr Colyer, episodes that keep one amused and stealthily surprised with deep emotions – I was moved in moments, in all three plays, to some tears, and I know the plays well. Mr Verevis, coolly and truly represents a new gay genrational sensibility as David that might bring hope to future gay life (it is set in 1981) with charming and understated ease. Ms Muggleton as bewildered Mrs Beckoff and Mr Corfield as the loving son, in the third play’s climatic emotional confrontation (the best of the three plays) resist the possible melodrama of the situation and reveal a mother and son in the estranged agonies of cultural and generational misunderstandings – one wishes for a happier resolution, for both characters, in the hands of these two actors, as they are worthy of our love and concern and one wishes neither of them unhappiness. It seems it will be inevitable for one of them – at least, temporarily. All these performances should crystallise further with the confidence of performing and earned relaxation.

Mr Colyer has with his company of actors also built, with Musical Director, Phil Scott, interludes of orchestrated torch song performances – instruments and sung lyrics – I’m not sure if it is always helpful to the momentum of the play, however proficient the execution by the cast.

The Production Design by Andrea Espinoza is especially pleasing in its details of a New York apartment and accommodates, mostly, the various locations needed with a minimum of fuss. The solutions are elegant. Nicholas Rayment’s lighting is sympathetic and inventive. And as I mentioned earlier, the Sound Design by Nate Edmonds, skirts around over-sending ‘messages’ of emotional direction – it is not always needed.

TORCH SONG TRILOGY at Theatre 19 then, is an especially welcome entertainment, generally as part of the Sydney theatre scene, and particularly as a terrific contribution to the 2013 Mardi Gras season. This production begins at 7pm and finished well after 10.30pm. It is a long evening, time wise I advise you, but, at my performance, it never felt like it at all.


P.S. This week is an apt time to encourage you to see TORCH SONG , this being the week that the British Government voted in favour of same sex marriages. A play that involves/expresses, 30 years ago, the desire for the GLBTQ community the right to marry and raise children is prescient, indeed. Celebrate this momentous move/day at TORCH SONG TRILOGY and hope that the Australian Government follows the old Empire’s headquarter’s lead.

1 replies to “Torch Song Trilogy”

  1. Hi Kevin. I'm so glad you enjoyed it so much. Of course as MD I'm sticking up for my contribution, though I know what you mean about momentum. I think this will less of an issue as they run the play in; it is partly about keeping the energy going. In rehearsal I particularly found with the second play that the brief musical interludes between scenes gave a breathing space and enabled the onlooker (ie me!) to understand the timeline much better, and also the subtle changes of perspective from one scene to the next. I also have to say that the live torch songs, while veering into the sentimental, are there to tell us where Arnold's aspirations are coming from. These are the sentiments he identifies with; I'm sure you remember, as I do, many gays of this era who lived in such a heightened dreamworld, especially the ones who felt victimised or ostracised. Needless to say, Harvey's script stipulates all these musical interludes: Zoe Bertram sang the torch songs in the earlier Aus production at a piano to the side of the stage. Stephen's plan to find actors who can also play music adds more variety, as well as being impressive in its own right I feel. I don't think it detracts from the play: we believe these "musicians" when they enter the action because they can all act. I agree with you: it is so interesting that Arnold's aims and attitudes (notably towards a gay family situation) are so similar to the central gay issues of 2013. After the backroom scene in the first play, comic though it is, it is easy to imagine that Arnold might not have survived into the 21st century. this thought in the back of my mind permeates the whole play for me. Cheers, Phil

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