Torch Song Trilogy is a play that matters to the canon of modern gay theatre. From 1982, it was a groundbreaking piece from Harvey Fierstein that won two Tony Awards (for Fierstein’s acting, and for Best Play).
It is refreshing, in Sydney, to see a contemporary play that is building a legacy; the Mardi Gras festival is always a much-needed home for queer theatre.
It’s a strong and well-developed production by Gaiety Theatre. Fitting nicely into the Darlinghurst Theatre stage, minimalist and evocative by design thanks to Andrew Espinoza, we glimpse into the life of Arnold, a Jewish drag queen in post-Stonewall New York City. A triptych, Torch Song Trilogy presents three life sagas: a love affair with Ed, a life with Alan, and then finally, the hint of a family.
Each act gives us a torch song (hence the name), performed in large party by Belinda Wollaston, ever the chanteuse. It’s a smoky bar of a play, an underground home of a play, a community experience. Stephen Colyer’s direction keeps the production intimate, while at the same time hinting at an entire world on the Darlinghurst stage. It’s a very careful balancing act, but Colyer balances the scales perfectly.
In the starring role, originated by Fierstein, is Simon Corfield. With a voice sitting somewhere in that famous Fierstein key and an air of very accessible vulnerability, he is immediately likable from the cracking of a couple of worldly and self-deprecating jokes. He’s the perfect character to spend three acts with: demanding of other characters, but not the audience; willing to share the world with otherws; flawed, but someone you can’t help but fight for.
[pull_left]Torch Song Trilogy is painfully funny, touching, and comes from a real sense of truth. This production honors its legacy by bringing it to life with careful, honest hands. A real treat[/pull_left]Christian Willis takes up the difficult role of the married, straight-acting, possibly bisexual Ed — Ed’s journey is as complete through the play as Arnold’s. There is plenty for an actor to do with the role and Willis doesn’t shy away from any of it, staring down doubt and discovery with a surprising foundation of warmth. As wife Laurel, who is desperate to be as open-minded as she wishes she could be, Belinda Wollaston moves seamlessly into the small cast.
It’s a cohesive group. Younger actors Mathew Verevis (with a stunning singing voice to boot) and Thom Jordan round out the numbers beautifully with all the requisite cockiness of youth, cleverly rounded into three dimensions thanks both to the script, the direction, and, one would wager, the older talent on the boards.
In the third act, however, we meet Arnold’s mother. Amanda Muggleton enters, and something sparks; Amanda Muggleton elevates a well-oiled production into something with real depth. She squares off against her son and against the world, and in her dowdy costume, she is a veritable force of nature. It’s certainly one of the best performances in this early 2013 season, and a reminder why Muggleton is one of the greats.
Torch Song Trilogy is painfully funny, touching, and comes from a real sense of truth. This production honors its legacy by bringing it to life with careful, honest hands. A real treat.