By Kyle Osborne
Theatre tickets aren’t usually cheap. They’re an investment—sometimes a gamble. So there’s nothing wrong, though some may think it “unsophisticated,” with expecting to get one’s “money’s worth.”
Now comes “Torch Song Trilogy” at Studio Theatre; A Tony-winning, history-making play that looks the audience in the eye, grabs it by its collective lapels and engages them for a three act journey that mixes the joys and pains of romantic and familial relationships. To be transported and moved and carried into the lives of these characters? Yeah, it’s worth every penny and every moment of time spent. How often does that happen?
The origins of Harvey Fierstein’s groundbreaking play go back to when it was three separate one acts performed waaaaay off Broadway until word spread and it eventually ended up in the big time for a shining period that remains his calling card some three decades later. Three one-acts combined that tell the life story of Arnold (Brandon Uranowitz), a Drag Queen who’s unlucky in love. With his Brooklyn honk and flamboyant mannerisms, Arnold is just the kind of guy who’d probably had his assed kicked more than once growing up, and has developed a comically cynical exterior to keep others laughing—laughing at arm’s length, that is.
He falls for a hunk called Ed (Todd Lawson) who is struggling with his own sexuality, and after a whirlwind romance, leaves Arnold for a more “normal” life by marrying Laurel (Sarah Grace Wilson). Much of what follows will be how the scars of this love will heal, be re-injured, and heal again. There are so many funny lines, you’ll lose count, but the play’s poignancy is what you’ll remember.
If Brandon Uranowitz does not, at the very least, receive a Helen Hayes Award nomination, I will be shocked and disappointed. Even at the start of the season, it’s impossible to imagine a more fully-realized, multi-dimensional performance. We are seeing Arnold’s tears and emotions, of course, but Uranowitz is bringing those to his character from some place so deep, it’s a wonder he has enough energy left for the curtain call. Or maybe I’m full of crap and he’s simply “pretending.” Either way, it doesn’t feel like make-believe.
The third act, which introduces Arnold’s Jewish Mother (you must use both of those words together), feels a little sit-com-y, but not in a bad way. It actually looks and feels like “All In The Family,” the sitcom that famously introduced the rhythm that went: laugh-pause-laugh-pause---gasp at something hurtful or ignorant that’s been said---and REALLY pause. Gordana Rashovich as Ma also has that kind of comedic timing—eliciting laughs right up until the moment that she says something that slices right through her grown son’s heart. Something that sucks the air out of the room.
When Fierstein dared to present a play with homosexual characters (not caricatures) more than three decades ago, he was rewarded by the theatre community, but how successful was it with “mainstream” America? That was another story.
But hasn’t that changed by now? I think so. At its heart, and it has a big one, “Torch Song Trilogy” is a universal story about love lost, about survival and coping and self-acceptance. Any audience member, no matter his orientation, can empathize with Arnold’s simple, yet always out of grasp wish to love and be loved for who he is. It’s a theme that will never be dated or tied to a specific place in time. And even in these more “enlightened” times, it’s still a heart-wrenching struggle for the Arnolds of the world. And that’s why you have that lump in your throat when the curtain falls.
‘Torch Song Trilogy’ continues at Studio Theatre through October 13th. For tickets and more information, visit: http://www.studiotheatre.org/