Embark on a theatrical journey with Dominion Stage’s Torch Song, a riveting exploration of love, longing, and resilience. As the characters navigate the complexities of their relationships, the term “torch song” takes on a new meaning, creating a world of passion and heartache that resonates throughout the show.
The play, written and originally performed by Harvey Fierstein, premiered Off-Broadway in 1981 followed by a highly successful run on Broadway in 1982. It consists of three shorter plays: International Stud, Fugue in a Nursery, and, after intermission, Widows and Children First. Fierstein’s semi-autobiographical work tells of a young gay man’s search for love during the 1970s. Torch Song has received critical acclaim and won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1983 as well as Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play for Fierstein. It has played a significant role in LGBTQ+ representation in the arts and is considered a milestone for queer drama. The play has since been adapted into a film version entitled Torch Song Trilogy in 1988 and a Broadway revival in 2018.
As the show opens we meet the central character, Arnold Beckoff (Gary Bernard DiNardo), a homosexual Jewish drag queen in his drag attire. DiNardo expertly portrays Arnold’s wide character range, seamlessly navigating both comedic and poignant moments. From his sharp wit and humor to his vulnerable, introspective scenes, DiNardo’s emotional depth and versatility are showcased by successfully depicting the complexities of Arnold’s relationships and personal growth. DiNardo takes the audience on Arnold’s moving journey of navigating the challenges of love, identity, and family.
We next meet Ed Reiss (Joey Pierce), Arnold’s on-again, off-again boyfriend who struggles with his own understanding of his sexuality and commitment. He appears perfect for Arnold except that he is bisexual and Laurel is in his life.
In Fugue in a Nursery, we fast forward and meet Ed’s wife, Laurel (Melanie Kurstin), and Arnold’s new boyfriend and model, Alan (Erik Wells). The musical term in the title, “fugue,” typically involves repetition and development of themes. In the context of the play, this may symbolize the recurring patterns and challenges in Arnold’s world. His involvement stirs up emotions and complicates the relationships of Arnold, Ed, and Laurel. The majority of this section is staged in a giant double bed with all four actors rotating through deep conversations, fights, and romantic interludes. This portion of the play demands a delicate dance of emotions and vulnerability from its actors, as they perform intimate, yet tastefully choreographed sexual scenes.
In the final play, Widows and Children First, we meet the adorable, quirky David (Joshua Horvath), Arnold’s foster son. Horvath masterfully embodied the essence of a lovable 16-year-old going on 36 who elicited many laughs from the audience before being scolded by his foster dad. His body language, filled with a youthful exuberance, captured the awkward charm and vulnerability of adolescence. The relationship between Arnold and David is a significant part of the narrative exploring acceptance in parenthood, which painfully contrasts with the relationship of Arnold and his Ma (Janice Zucker). The title of this play suggests maritime disaster protocol, symbolizing the urgency and challenges Arnold faces in defining his own version of family.
With the smaller performance space of a black box, which demands simplicity, technical elements can present challenges. The creative team for this production understood this need and successfully created Arnold’s world. The lighting design by Ken and Patti Crowley was masterfully executed, directing the audience’s focus and setting the mood of the scenes. Strategic illumination informed the setting, heightened pivotal moments, and created a visual narrative that complemented the unfolding story. Sound design by Alan Wray enhanced the atmosphere with music and effects. Careful timing of cues helped immerse the audience in the play’s world. Due to the space, mic amplification was not used on the actors, but there was no need as all actors were easily audible. There were occasional pops in the speakers throughout the play, but this reviewer is confident those were resolved through the first-weekend run. Costumes were designed by Tracey Froelich, properties by Helen Bard-Sobola, set design by Bill Brown, projections by Chip Gertzog, hair and makeup by Rebecca Harris, and the production was stage managed by Paul Di Salvo and Todd Paul.
Director Mario Font ensured his cast of six actors all shone in their roles. Font’s direction was character-focused, emphasizing the depth and development of each character. It was evident that he skillfully guided the actors to explore the intricacies of their roles, bringing out authentic emotions and creating a compelling narrative. This resulted in a production where the characters were relatable and engaging for the audience.
Dominion’s highly entertaining production is guaranteed to make audiences roar with laughter and reflect on the thought-provoking dialogue. Torch Song is a poignant exploration of personal and societal struggles faced by individuals within the LGBTQ+ community. It delves into the tensions and dynamics within families, shedding light on the quest for self-identity and acceptance. As the director states in his program notes, “Torch Song is a tribute to our universal truths regardless of sexual identity or orientation. Arnold is Everyman. Arnold is us. Arnold is me.”
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.
Torch Song plays through February 10, 2024, on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 PM, presented by Dominion Stage performing at Gunston Theatre Two, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA. Purchase tickets ($25) online.
Dominion Stage warns that this production contains adult content and subject matter, including partial nudity, profanity, references to suicide, consumption of alcohol, reference to violent murder, homophobic ideology, and simulated sex acts. Not recommended for audiences under the age of 18.
COVID Safety: Masks are optional for this performance.