Harvey Fierstein’s groundbreaking 1983 Tony Award-winning dramedy “Torch Song Trilogy” captivates with delightful humor and poignant heartbreak in its outstanding Human Race Theatre Company debut.
Skillfully directed by Scott Stoney and intimately transpiring on a revolving set by Scott J. Kimmins, “Torch Song Trilogy” predates AIDS in its blunt, colorful, sexually charged account of larger-than-life Arnold Beckoff, a funny, flamboyant, torch song-adoring Jewish drag queen longing to find Mr. Right in New York City. As the title suggests, Arnold’s saga occurs in three segments spanning seven years. “International Stud,” the boldest portion, launches the show in 1978 centered on Arnold’s attraction to bisexual Ed Reese, a choice that holds immense ramifications. A year later, in “Fugue in a Nursery,” Arnold and his new partner Alan, a young model/hustler, are invited to the country home of Ed and his fiancée Laurel only to have their burgeoning relationship put to the test. Five years later, in “Widows and Children First!,” Arnold, still mourning Alan’s untimely death as a victim of a hate crime, seeks to adopt a gay teenager, which infuriates his intolerant mother. Stoney, avoiding the temptation to go broad or melodramatic, expertly grasps the play’s clever intricacies and varying shifts in tone, particularly providing excellent blocking for Act 2 which symbolically takes place on a large bed with the aforementioned foursome continuously altering positions in bedrooms and other locations.
The fantastic Jamison Stern, a sharp comedian and find singer dives into Arnold’s vivid evolution from independence to fatherhood with great vulnerability. Exposing a gamut of emotions over the course of three and a half hours encompassing racy comic relief and tear-jerking defiance with a terrific rendition of “The Man That Got Away” thrown in for good measure, Stern fuels Arnold’s desire for connection and companionship with sincerity and passion. He has a winning rapport with all of his fellow actors, but his dynamically dramatic work in Act 3 opposite a brutally stern Patricia Linhart as Mrs. Beckoff provides significant sparks that cut deep.
Jamie Cordes, typically seen in musicals, commendably delivers one of his most complex portrayals as the hopelessly mysterious and perturbing Ed. Lisa Ann Goldsmith is an engaging open book as the forgiving and understanding Laurel, who has a history of attracting bisexual men. The endlessly charming Jon Hacker, a Wright State University standout, appealingly embodies Alan as a carefree romantic. As David, a damaged product of foster care who finally finds solace and meaning with Arnold, Philip Thomas Stock, a senior at Stivers School for the Arts, enjoyably fits the mold of a wisecracking teen. In addition to portraying Mrs. Beckoff, Linhart amplifies the potency of Act 1 in Janet G. Powell’s lovely gowns as torch singer Lady Blues, particularly shining with “I Don’t Care Much.”
“Torch Song Trilogy” transcends sexuality in its pursuit of happiness, but bittersweet feelings remain when you consider what the future held for Arnold as AIDS devastatingly transformed the community he treasured so dearly. But I prefer to believe Arnold is currently supporting the wave of marriage equality and feverishly anticipating the upcoming season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” And above all, I hope he’s truly content with someone special who absolutely accepts everything about him – his faults, his goodness, his insecurities, his preferences, his eccentricities, his past – in genuine love.
“Torch Song Trilogy” continues through Feb. 16 at the Loft Theatre of the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There is also a 7 p.m. performance Feb. 4. Act One: 55 minutes; Act Two: 60 minutes; Act Three: 80 minutes. There are two intermissions. Tickets are $31-$40 for adults, $29-$38 for seniors and $16.50-$20.50 for students. Discounts are available. For tickets, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com or www.humanracetheatre.org. Patrons are advised the show contains adult language and content. There is also a special talkback scheduled following the Feb. 9 performance. The Greater Dayton LGBT Center has partnered with the Race to present LGBT Pride Night for the Feb. 11 performance.