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Theatre / Torch Song Trilogy

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"I think my biggest problem is being young and beautiful. It's my biggest problem because I've never been young and beautiful. Oh, I've been beautiful, and God knows I've been young, but never the twain have met."
Arnold Beckoff

Torch Song Trilogy is a groundbreaking gay theatre piece by Harvey Fierstein. Fierstein wrote the three plays to give himself acting work, and he became a famous writer accidentally. The three plays included were each written and produced separately, at La Ma Ma, etc. in New York in the 70s, then came to Broadway in 1983. The three plays have radically different styles, but all concern a character named Arnold Beckoff, and his on-again-off-again relationship with his bisexual lover Ed.


They are:

  • International Stud – 3 characters. Told in fragments as Arnold, a drag queen, talks to the audience, then Ed tries to pick up Arnold in a bar (the real-life gay bar "International Stud"), they break up when Ed can’t come out of the closet. The sections keep the actors apart, with monologues and speaking together on the phone, until they finally share the stage in the last scene. It is intended that a character called “Lady Blues” will sing a torch song between each section.
  • Fugue in a Nursery – Arnold and his new young lover Alan come to visit Ed and his new wife at their country house for the weekend. Jealousy abounds. The set is an enormous bed with a back for four musicians who play thematically, each of the musical instruments represented a character in the original score.
  • Widows and Children First! – Naturalistic style. Alan has died in a gay-bashing, and Arnold is left to raise their adopted gay teenager David alone. His intolerant mother comes to visit from Florida (a role written for Estelle Getty, who won great acclaim in the Broadway production – it was this that brought her to the attention of the producers of The Golden Girls). Ed meanwhile has divorced his wife, and it seems he and Arnold may reconcile.

Since the plays were originally done stand-alone, the full evening runs close to four hours.On Broadway it won the 1983 Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Leading Actor and the 1983 Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Actor for Harvey Fierstein, and the Theatre World Award. Producer John Glines' Tony speech was historic for acknowledging his male lover and co-producer, Larry Lane.

Fierstein starred in and adapted his play for a feature film, released in 1988. It co-starred Matthew Broderick as Alan, who had played David in the original production.


Torch Song Trilogy provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Brainless Beauty: Alan. He's a model. Arnold says to him in the film "If you have an I.Q. of over 30, then there is no God."
  • Cast Full of Gay: Two straight women. Even more so in the movie, where the cast is expanded a bit.
  • Drag Queen: Arnold is one, professionally. Theatrically, this is only touched on in the first play, the movie expands a bit and includes some musical numbers and other drag queen colleagues.
  • Gayngst: From Ed. Pretty much the reason he and Arnold break up.
  • Jewish Mother: Mrs. Beckoff.
  • No Bisexuals: Averted with Ed.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The unorthodox style of the four-hour-long play obviously couldn't translate to film, except maybe as a filmed play. Instead, Fierstein elected to change the film into a more straightforward narrative that followed the main outline of the play but smoothed it over considerably. One result is that the title becomes something of a Word Salad Title in the film version, since it's presented as a single story instead of three separate pieces with the same characters.
  • Queer Romance: Duh.

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