Review: Torch Song Trilogy
Back in 1984, the year after the man who created Arnold Beckoff on the page and stage, Harvey Feirstein, walked away with two Tony Awards – Best Play and Best Actor – Tony Sheldon won acclaim here in Sydney for his star turn in the role.
In the audience were a lot of young men who had dragged their parents to the show. They felt something of their life and struggles was actually being portrayed on stage and so they came out in the darkened theatre.
Feirstein has said his trilogy was “not written for a straight audience” – ironically the gay critics and audiences, in the early days, rejected the plays – but the material is so moving and laugh-out-loud funny, I think everyone feels included. This is partly because Arnold, a New York drag queen, comes across as an everyman. He is just an everyman in a silk wrap and bunny slippers.
Arnold is the pivotal figure in all three plays. Set in the late 70s and early 80s, the first of the chronological one-acts, sees Arnold fall hard for the wrong man. The second, with a nod to Noel Coward, has Arnold and his new lover visit his ex and his ex’s wife for a country weekend. In the final and most heartfelt of the plays, we meet an evolved Arnold who is dealing with the death of his lover.
Director Stephen Colyer stages the action fluidly and with a lot of physical wit on Andrea Espinoza’s minimal set. He keeps the performance energy high but not at the expense of the audience connection. The interwoven torch songs, under the musical direction of Phil Scott, are performed by the multi talented cast. A mash up of Bob Haggart’s What’s New and Pink’s I Don’t Believe You, with phenomenal vocals by Belinda Wollaston and Mathew Verevis, was a highlight.
Simon Corfield is gorgeous in the show. He is barely offstage and brings a riveting commitment to Arnold. He is beautifully matched by Amanda Muggleton as Ma Beckoff whose exquisite timing allows us to empathise with a very difficult character. There is also strong support from Christian Willis as Ed, Wollaston as Laurel and Verevis as David.
Torch Song Trilogy was a landmark in gay theatre and this revival is simply excellent.
Torch Song Trilogy, Darlinghurst Theatre, Potts Point. Until 3 March. Bookings: (02) 8356 9987