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Torch Song Trilogy

You want to be a part of my life? I'm not editing out the parts you don't like. — Arnold to his lover.
Torch Song Trilogy
Brandon Uranowitz (Arnold) and Gordana Rashovich (Ma)
Teddy Wolff (Photo: Teddy Wolff)
First produced Off-Broadway in the late 1970s Torch Song Trilogy has picked up momentum in the intervening decades. Not so much because of the changes in gay rights and, in some places certainly not all, attitudes towards gays, but because the play is a heartfelt torch song to love and respect.

In the first act, The International Stud, we meet Arnold (playwright Harvey Fierstein's alter ego) in drag in his dressing room. He's a female impersonator, sharp-tongued on the outside and terribly vulnerable psychologically. He has a knack for falling for the wrong guy or ruining the romance when he falls for the right guy or having the right guy walk out on him. It's complicated.

By the second act, Fugue in a Nursery, which takes place on a huge bed, relationships have developed and point/counterpoint themes are intricately interwoven. Arnold has found love with what he calls "that gorgeous imbecile" Alan and his former lover, the bi-sexual Ed, is taken with lady love Laurel. What about commitment, love, sex? What is the price of monogamy and domesticity? Boredom?

Five years later, in act three, Widows and Children First, Alan is gone, Arnold is trying to adopt a former street kid, and Ed is back. Then Ma, Arnold's formidable mother, a widow and ex-New Yorker now living in Florida, played with fierce resolve by Gordana Rashovich in a copper red wig, comes to visit. With an acid tongue she proceeds to berate Arnold for all that he has become. Apart from their mutual predilection for bunny slippers, she is deaf to his explanations and too egocentric to even attempt to understand her son's emotions. Ma, doesn't get that her son wants to love and be loved, that he too is a "widow." It is a tribute to Arnold that he survives and even loves this harridan.

While the underlying theme of all three acts is unconditional love, ideas are delivered with rapid-fire one liners followed by the most moving revelations. What is a torch song? Nothing but a sentimental ode to lost love, an affair gone wrong, or worse love that is not reciprocated. "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," The Man that Got Away." A character named Lady Blues (Ashleigh King) fills the entr'actes with such laments.

Harvey Fierstein's dialogue is superior to anything you are likely to hear or read in what passes for comedy or humor today. While catching your breath from the last one-liner, he hits you with the pathos that underlies his words, leaving you reeling with laughter one moment and on the verge of tears the next. Quite an achievement in a play that runs 3 hours and 35 minutes.

What makes this production so enjoyable, so moving and so memorable is director Michael Kahn's non-sentimental, non-camp direction. His touch is neither light nor heavy. But Kahn is lucky and/or prescient in his casting of Brandon Uranowitz, a brilliant young actor with so many technical gifts for comedy and tragedy. (He's done some Broadway, some tv and some Shakespeare.) His performance will long be remembered by those who see this wonderful revival of a truly heartwarming play.
Torch Song Trilogy
By Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Michael Kahn
Scenic Design by James Noon
Lighting Design by Peter West
Costume Design by Frank Labovitz
Cast: Brandon Uranowitz (Arnold); Gordana Rashovich (Ma); Todd Lawson (Ed); Alex Mills (Alan); Sarah Grace Wilson (Laurel); Michael Lee Brown (David); Ashleigh King (Lady Blues).
Running time: 3 hours 35 minutes.
Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC; 202-332-3300;
September 4, 2013 to October 13, 2013, extended to October 20th
Tickets are $39 to $85.
Review by Susan Davidson based on September 8, 2013 performance.
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