Review: Torch Song, starring Michael Urie
There's never been a better time to put a drag queen back on Broadway. In Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song, now back on Broadway after a successful run off-Broadway, Michael Urie's fiercely energizing performance as Arnold Beckoff (who we first meet as drag queen alter-ego Virginia Ham), gives a jolt of life to the show in it's first revival on Broadway.
Arnold Beckoff is trying to find happiness in New York. He wants a child, a husband (the international stud type, if you will), and a fitting pair of bunny slippers. As the audience is invited to watch his search unfold through three parts (originally three one act plays), we learn that it's not just a play about Arnold. It's about family, what bonds us together, and what makes us stronger.
In part one, International Stud, we watch as Arnold is searching for that man, who he eventually meets in the form of Ed, played by Ward Horton. Ed is not a very decisive guy, and during his relationship with Arnold he struggles with both sides of sexuality, and his indecisiveness leads him to eventually marrying Laurel, played by Roxanna Hope Radja. It looks at Arnold's want for connection and closeness, as well as sharing humorous anecdotes about Arnold's search for happiness, such as the back room in the bar that is used for hookups.
In part two, Fugue in a Nursery, Ed and Laurel have invited Arnold to come up to their country house for the weekend, and he brings his new boyfriend, Alan, played by Michael Hsu Rosen. Thanks to the scenic design from David Zinn, this part has the foursome in a giant bed, as they continuously pop up in different pairs. All possible relationships are explored here, as Ed and Laurel's precarious union is fleshed out, as is the sweet and sincere relationship between Arnold and Alan, and the sudden interest Ed takes in Alan, and its effect on Laurel and Arnold.
In part three, Widows and Children First, we find Arnold with just about everything he wants. He's happily walking around in bunny slippers, has Ed living in his tiny Manhattan apartment with him, and is close to adopting troubled but changed 15 year old teenager named David, played by Jack DiFalco. Oh, and the indescribable Mrs. Beckoff, played by Mercedes Ruehl, is coming to visit.
Rather than examining Arnold's craving for connection, part three examines the ties between close and extended family. Mrs. Beckoff comes with baggage in the emotional sense as well as the physical, in the form of offensive questions and hurtful comments that lead to a mother-son shouting match, where the full effect that her lack of acceptance for Arnold and his life choices is bared for all to see.
Beautifully acted, well directed, and with humor that is as funny now as it was in the 80s, Torch Song is an incredibly human play that deserves to be seen. Because in life, everyone is a little like Arnold. We're all searching for something, even if it's just a pair of bunny slippers that fit.