Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Aug 1 – 26, 2018
Playwright: Harvey Fierstein
Director: Stephen Colyer
Cast: Hilary Cole, Simon Corfield, Imraan Daniels, Tim Draxl, Stephen Madsen, Kate Raison, Phil Scott
Images by Clare Hawley
It is the perfect time to revisit Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy. The play premiered in New York 1982, right before the AIDS crisis crippled the LGBT community. Fierstein’s vision was full of hope, daring to see queer people break into the mainstream, with portrayals of gay men in serious monogamous relationships, thriving in family units that incorporate legally adopted children.
Almost immediately after the completion of this work, the LGBT movement experienced a setback of at least thirty years, finding itself in a new fight, in many ways even harder than before, with the world laying the blame of AIDS entirely on us. What had been a burgeoning era of equality post-Stonewall was all but decimated. Today’s revival is an appropriate resumption of progress; much of the West has now succumbed to the demand for marriage equality, and that discussion about marginalised identities gaining parity not only of rights, but also respect, can now once again be sincerely salient.
Actor Simon Corfield plays Arnold, a gay Jewish New Yorker, whose resilience forms the centrepiece of this saga. Corfield’s performance is often very moving; his depictions of suffering are absolutely enthralling, ensuring that the show’s politics remain foregrounded. Comedy aspects, however, are less consistently rendered. Kate Raison offers a redemptive energy boost, with her potent entrance in the third act as Arnold’s mother, restoring lustre to the play’s humour. Incidental songs are magnificently presented by Hilary Cole and Tim Draxl, accompanied by Phil Scott’s exquisite piano playing. Both singers use music to their magical advantage and leave remarkable impressions, enhanced by strong acting in their roles as Laurel and Ed.
The production can at times be insufficiently ebullient, but an authentic soulful quality permeates, and sustains, all the action. It is a visually sumptuous staging, boldly lit by Benjamin Brockman, whose extravagant approach for Torch Song Trilogy imbues it with a captivating sense of theatricality. There is a beautiful melancholy to director Stephen Colyer’s style that adds a richness to the play’s concerns; Arnold never dwells on his pain, but Colyer insists that we see all of it.
Back in the day, the idea that gay men could start their own normative family lives, was a completely subversive notion. Today, it can still be a surprising thought, although some of us are more taken aback, by the fact that any queer person would choose an existence that seems so ordinary. For LGBT people in places with adequate legal protection, our choices are broader than ever before. Some want to emulate their parents, others wish to break new ground, and most would probably find their peace somewhere in between the extremes. The whole point of this long battle, is so that people can become whomever they desire. Love thy neighbour as you love thyself, no matter how different they appear to be.