Article Title:Torch Song Trilogy
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:29th November 2004 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:502
Text:Transposing plays out of their original setting and attempting to 'adapt' them for a local audience is never an easy task, and when you're taking a production as quintessentially rooted in the New York gay ghetto and Jewish sensibilities as Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy, you'd better make sure you don't do it by half. Unfortunately, John Hancox's recently-completed production of the play at Lopdell House in Auckland's Titirangi does just that. Jarring references to the Civil Union Bill, K Road and modern-day Auckland City in the context of the uncompromisingly difficult life of a professional drag queen pre-AIDS seem very anachronistic. However, this could have been a minor complaint if the characters engaged, and while there are some solid performances from the supporting cast (notably Betty Richards as Arnold's mother, and Phil Brooks as Arnold's ill-fated partner Alan), Torch Song Trilogy's biggest problem is the uncharismatic and two-dimensional performance of its main character, Arnold, played by Mickey Posner. Arnold is a big character, with big dialogue. When you have those two things, adding a big performance = pantomime dame. Posner plays Arnold as if he is acting in a farce, which renders the highly emotional third act (where Arnold confronts his mother over the death of Alan at the hands of gay-bashers) embarrassing rather than cathartic. Torch Song Trilogy deals with some heavy themes, in terms of gay men's difficulty in accepting their identity, the effect that has on our relationships, conflict with parents, the expectations heterosexual society has of us, and violent prejudice. The focus here has been on the ‘entertaining' aspect of the script, with the issues seemingly a token add-on. Without context, plays with ‘issues' become little more than empty TV-movies-of-the-week. An essential part of understanding Arnold is to be immersed in his world, which although in the original script is very different to New Zealand, does have comparable parallels which could have been explored more fully than just changing a couple of place names. Auckland City's gay ghetto in the 1970's as captured by renowned photographer Fiona Clark captured the city's drag and trans-community in all its bittersweet glory. The smiles, the make-up, the fab outfits and acerbic bitchiness were all there; but in the eyes of Clark's subjects you could see that life wasn't all that sweet. The bitchiness was a defence mechanism. This is precisely the world of Arnold, and of Fierstein's play. There's an essential vulnerability of character that the production completely fails to capture among the theatrical muggings and exaggerated gestures. Perhaps it is an assumption that to stage a confrontational gay-themed play for community theatre that it's necessary to play for laughs? If so, this approach was unnecessary. Torch Song Trilogy already has the laughter, but it also has the tears. As performed, this production sadly had little of the former, and none of the latter. Chris Banks - 29th November 2004    
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