Torch Song review at Helen Hayes Theatre, New York – ‘a stirring revival’
Thirty-six years since its Broadway debut, Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song returns to its original home, now owned and operated by Second Stage Theater, the original producers of this smart, compassionate revival, before its transfer under producer Richie Jackson.
Nothing has changed and yet everything has: between Torch Song’s first appearance and now the gay community has been deeply affected by the legacy and losses of HIV/Aids, yet we also now have gay marriage and adoptions in the US and much of Europe, which this play so presciently and powerfully anticipates.
Fierstein was ahead of his time in this autobiographically-charged drama about a drag queen navigating the forever choppy waters of family and relationships. He was also formally inventive: originally titled Torch Song Trilogy, it progresses in three distinctly-flavoured acts from one-man monologue and a fluid bedroom scene between three different overlapping couples to a conventional but shattering final domestic showdown between a man and his disapproving mother as he finally insists on the equality of his own needs and desires.
The play’s defiant and universal humanity shines through with a burning intensity in Moises Kaufman’s beautifully modulated production. It is galvanised by the fierce combination of unsentimental vulnerability and independent dignity that Michael Urie brings to the character of Arnold, while Mercedes Ruehl errs just the right side of dramatic cliche in her performance as his overbearing Jewish mum.
There’s also sympathetic support from Ward Horton as Arnold’s conflicted former lover Ed and Roxanna Hope Radja as Ed’s wife Lauren. If Jack DiFalco seems a little too old to play the adopted nearly-16 year old son David, he has a brash, knowing confidence.