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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Torch Song Trilogy
Menier Chocolate Factory  Summer 2012

If there can be said to be classics in a relatively young genre, Harvey Fierstein's 1981 alternately comic and touching triptych is a classic of gay drama. 

The three related one-act plays (actually written separately, and the seams and loose ends resulting from putting them together sometimes show) display with pride and occasionally some embarrassment the range of emotions experienced by a gay man in the 1980s, requesting and ultimately demanding respect for that man and that experience. 

The first play introduces us to Arnold, a professional drag queen fully confident onstage but with wavering self-esteem off. He begins a relationship with semi-closeted confused-about-his-sexuality Ed, who dumps him for a woman. 

In Act Two, a short while later, Ed and his girlfriend invite Arnold and his new boyfriend for a week in the country, where we see that the guests are deeper and their budding relationship stronger than the hosts'. 

By the third play Arnold has experienced a deep personal tragedy and some new hope, and must face two final challenges getting his mother, who barely accepts his sexuality, to acknowledge the reality of his emotions, and figuring out what the hell to do with Ed. 

Some may have seen Harvey Fierstein himself play Arnold in the 1988 film. Fewer of us were lucky enough to see him in the original 1981 Off-Broadway production, surely as definitive a performance of anything as ever existed, and it is the highest commendation I can offer of Douglas Hodge's direction and David Bedella's performance here that they stand comparison to the original. 

The first play is not quite as funny and painfully self-exposing as Fierstein made it, but the second seems far more coherent and connected to the others than it did in 1981. The last act is a bit of a wash, stronger in its Neil Simon-like sitcom sequences than its more dramatic moments. 

David Bedella starts a bit hesitantly, as if too aware of the shoes he's trying to fill, and even lapses into a bit of a Fierstein imitation in the opening moments. But he soon finds his own grasp on the character and (literally, after reaching for a version of Fierstein's signature growl) his own voice. 

His Arnold is from the start stronger and more self-confident than Harvey's was and less self-depreciatingly clownish, which gives a core to the character that helps make the second play make more sense and prepares us for the greater depth the playwright wrote into the character in the final play. 

Joe McFadden is the best Ed I've ever seen, managing to keep the guy sympathetic even as he is repeatedly a bit of a jerk, but Sara Kestelman, usually the best thing in any show she is part of, can't find much beyond generic Jewish mother in her role. Laura Pyper and Tom Rhys Harries make the most one could ask out of underwritten roles, but Perry Millward has been unwisely misdirected toward caricature.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Torch Song Trilogy - Menier 2012  
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