Saturday, March 25, 2023
Show TE Archives:
Torch Song - Michael Urie in Harvey Fierstein's breakthrough drag queen, post Stonewall - pre AIDS saga

Oscar E. Moore “from the rear mezzanine” for Talk

It’s virtually impossible to fill those bunny rabbit slippers worn so majestically and confidently by Harvey Fierstein in his original production of TORCH SONG TRILOGY some 35 years ago which garnered him awards for writing this breakthrough openly gay saga and for being its openly gay star.

The torch has been passed along to Michael Urie who as hard as he tries is still chasing Harvey to the finish line in this slimmed down, revised version known as TORCH SONG directed by Moises Kaufman. I admire Mr. Urie’s immense talent. He is a master of physical comedy and has a way with those zingers that Mr. Fierstein has written but he is not right for the part.

Harvey Fierstein is a force of nature so strong - both in body and spirit and wit - that it is hard to erase him from being Arnold – the lonely, needy drag queen of the sharp comeback and astute observations otherwise known as Virginia Ham. Not to mention his unmistakable and raspy voice that is immediately recognizable.

Case in point: one of the biggest laughs in Act I occurs in the International Stud - a notorious gay back room bar. Arnold has met the handsome Ed (Ward Horton) who turns out to be bi-sexual. As they are leaving together Ed says to Arnold “Is this your normal voice or do you have a cold?” Instantly the audience thinks of Harvey and it gets a huge laugh. But for the wrong reason.

After all Mr. Fierstein wrote this three part opus for himself about himself. Taking place from 1971 through 1980. Post Stonewall and pre AIDS. The International Stud (1971). Fugue in a Nursery (1974) and Widows and Children First (1980).

Looking around the audience packed with gay couples of various ages – some holding hands - one thinks back to when this play first opened. It would have been unheard of for gays to be this confident and comfortable in their own skins as they are now. Thanks to Harvey we now can. But the fight isn’t finished.

In part two of Act I Arnold in invited to the open love nest relationship of Ed and his girlfriend Laurel (Roxanna Hope Radja) with his new gorgeous boyfriend Alan – a model. Ed puts the make on him while Arnold and Laurel do the dishes. This all takes place in an oversized bed – the staging is quite clever as the characters pop in and out from under the sheets.

Arnold with an underlying sadness is still looking for love in all the wrong places. Not just great sex but love and commitment. He is desperate for respect, trying to be just like Ma (an excellent Mercedes Ruehl) – who arrives from Miami in Act II blazing verbal bullets and wearing her own pair of bunny slippers. Like Ma like Gay Son!

Arnold still has Ed in his life and a gay foster child David (Jack DiFalco) who has been bullied with a black eye to prove it. Arnold and Alan had decided on starting a family before he had a tragic accident which isn’t fully fleshed out. Ma and Arnold try to understand each other. Much to our amusement and horror.

Most interesting is the bisexual Ed (a terrific Ward Norton who almost steals the spotlight) – a gay closeted man who needs a woman in his life as proof of his normalcy even though he cannot stay away from being with and loving Arnold. That’s how it was back then and in some respects still is.

2 hours - 40 minutes at Second Stage. One intermission.

Extended through Dec. 9th. Tony Kiser Theater

Photo: Joan Marcus

Visit for additional photos