.‘Torch Song’ at Marin Theatre

It’s been more than 40 years since Harvey Fierstein exploded into our cultural consciousness with Torch Song Trilogy. At a time when being gay could get one thrown out of the military and the thought of marriage equality was considered a fantasy, the story of a gay man (and a drag queen at that) searching for love and the domesticity that often accompanies it was quite revolutionary.

Essentially three one-acts running over four hours, the show won Fierstein Tony Awards in 1983 for Best Play and Best Actor in a Play. In 2017, Fierstein abridged his script by about 90 minutes and the title to simply Torch Song. Marin Theatre has a production of this version running in Mill Valley through June 2.

We first meet Arnold Beckoff (Dean Linnard) backstage after one of his drag performances. It’s the early ’70s, and Arnold is bemoaning the lack of love in his life. He’s been looking in all the wrong places, including the back room of “The International Stud” (a very funny scene). He actually does meet a guy there who piques his interest. His name is Ed (Patrick Andrew Jones), and he and Arnold begin what Arnold thinks is a relationship. But Ed is bisexual and continues to date women. This does not bode well for their relationship.

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Fast forward a couple of years, and Arnold is invited to join Ed and his girlfriend, Laurel (Kina Kantor), at Ed’s family home in upstate New York. Much to Ed’s consternation, Arnold arrives in the company of his new, younger lover, Alan (Edrick Young). “Fugue in a Nursery” takes place entirely in a vertical bed with all four popping in and out of conversations and couplings, both comedic and emotional.

“Widows and Children First” takes place five years later. Ed has left Laurel and is sleeping on Arnold’s couch. Arnold is fostering a gay teen (Joe Ayers) with hopes of adoption while dealing with the devastating death of Alan. They are all on edge with the impending arrival of Arnold’s mother. Mrs. Beckoff (Nancy Carlin) has never accepted Arnold’s “lifestyle.” A blistering battle will ensue.

Director Evren Odcikin and a terrific ensemble do wonders with Fierstein’s brilliant (but still overlong) script. Linnard is dazzling as the annoyingly loveable Arnold. Jones’ performance as the conflicted Ed is nicely understated. Carlin’s scenes with Linnard leave them (and the audience) emotionally drained.

Torch Song may run a verse or two too long, but the notes are beautifully played.

‘Torch Song’ runs Weds-Sun through June 2 at Marin Theatre, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Weds-Sat, 7:30pm; Sat & Sun, 2pm. $12-$72. 415.388.5208. marintheatre.org.


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