Torch Song in Easthampton: Powerful and Funny
Torch Song Presents a Side of Gay Life Not Often Depicted in the Valley
Bravo to the Easthampton Theater Company for choosing Torch Song, by Harvey Fierstein. The show is a powerful and hilarious depiction of a Jewish gay man’s search for love amidst the barriers of the times and his own challenging, strong personality. Remember rotary phones with long cords and back when nobody ever admitted to being gay? Those times.
Arnold (Patric Madden) captures the essence of this complex lead character, popping out double entrendres and zingers at a frenetic pace…with great timing and just enough New York in the voice to work.
Putting on this show provides a balance in the Valley Theater world, which is heavy on lesbian and women-themed shows but rarely addresses the other side of gay life–men, and their struggles. This show really goes deep, and gets real with talk of sex acts and love, men kissing, and scenes in a sex club–a refreshing change.
This two-and-a-half-hour-long Torch Song is the revival of Harvey Fierstein’s landmark 4-hour Torch Song Trilogy, the tale of the pre-AIDS, post Stonewall world between 1974 and 1980. There are still three acts and an intermission.
Each scene begins with a torch song sung by ‘Lady Blues’, talented drag queen singer Petro Serrazina, who is quite dazzling in her elaborate outfits and impressive wigs. Credit needs to be given here to the talented Jason P. Hayes who did the costumes, make-up and all of those 11 wigs used in the show.
Hayes has worked with Fierstein on Broadway and on traveling productions, so when he found out about this show in Easthampton, he signed up to help out.
Torch Song’s opening act is titled ‘The International Stud’ which was the name of a famous gay bar with live sex taking place in the back room. Arnold is at his dressing room table, applying the make-up for the drag performance he does every night. He educates us about how to view a drag queen–“like an oil painting, you have to stand back to appreciate her beauty.” We watch Arnold in the club, in an interesting scene where we hear only one side of the conversation/proposition…which snares an attractive bisexual guy named Ed. Things seem to click.
Later on as Arnold is enjoying the earliest throes of this new potential love, he’s disheartened to learn over the telephone that this Ed is also interested in women…and he can’t talk too much longer because, one is coming over for dinner in minutes.
We can see the attraction that Ed has to the woman, Laurel, because that’s normal, that’s mainstream. Though he is pulled toward Arnold from his attraction and lust, there is much for him to desire and admire for going along the way everyone else does and so he begins dating Laurel. Soon, Arnold has found a new younger boyfriend, Alan, played with a clever naivete by David DiRocco.
In the second scene one year later, Arnold and Alan pay a visit to the country home that Ed and Laurel keep, and it’s a weekend of bed swapping, and a lot of tension about Arnold and Ed’s previous relationship. Laurel then drops the bomb telling Arnold that she and Ed are now engaged.
Several years after, Arnold and Alan are still together and they make plans to adopt a teenage boy. But bad things happen. Five years later David is a high school student and so now it’s the classic TV sitcom arrangement, with two men and a teenage boy, after Ed moves in to help out Arnold.
At this time another character drops in…it’s Ma, (Rona Leventhal) the stereotypical Jewish mother who is coming to visit from far away. Oh no. Now they’ve gotta explain who David is and the whole picture is murky and to Ma, not good, not good at all.
Ma has some zingers in store, like when she quotes her late husband who used to call Arnold a ‘fairy’. She shrivels Arnold’s ego to the core when she blurts out that if she knew he would turn out gay she wouldn’t have wanted to him to live. Ouch! Leventhals tiny stature and her New York accent captured the part and it was these scenes of revealing their family’s awkwardness with his being gay and Arnold’s expected return volleys that made it intense and intriguing.
The only small peeve I need to report about this downstairs space in Easthampton’s City Space are three poles that blocked my view of some scenes. Hopefully more shows can be held upstairs in the larger space after renovations are complete providing clear sightlines throughout, instead of having to try and watch around the poles.
Torch Song, Easthampton Theater Company. Jan 26 through Feb. 4, 2024. Produced by Michael O. Budnick and Jason Rose-Langston, Artistic and Technical Director. Blue Room, Old Town Hall, Easthampton. Production Team: Eva Husson-Stockhamer, Veronica Klakotskiy, Deb Jacobson, Manny Morales, Matt O’Reilly, Jason Hayes and Frank Croke.