WHAT “Torch Song”
WHERE Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater, 305 W. 43rd St., Manhattan
INFO $89-$129, 212-246-4422, 2st.com
BOTTOM LINE Condensed but no less intense revival of Harvey Fierstein’s prophetic play.
Those are some serious bunny slippers Michael Urie has been charged with filling.
Taking on the role of Arnold Beckoff in the revival of Harvey Fierstein’s groundbreaking “Torch Song Trilogy” — shortened now to just “Torch Song” — Urie must contend with the specter of Fierstein’s iconic portrayal of the gay drag queen and his relentless search for love, family and acceptance. (Fierstein won Tonys for the play and his performance as Arnold).
Fierstein has condensed the trilogy — originally three plays produced individually Off-Broadway in the late ’70s before being combined into one four-hour opus for the 1982 Broadway debut — into a more palatable two hours and 45 minutes.
Guided by Moisés Kaufman’s gentle direction, Urie (“Buyer & Cellar,” “Ugly Betty”) gives a nuanced, emotional performance. Yet he wisely avoids any attempt to channel Fierstein, though the story has always been accepted as somewhat autobiographical (the playwright’s pet rabbit explains the recurring bunny motifs, including those oh-so-recognizable slippers).
Urie’s gift for physical comedy keeps the first act (the first two plays, “The International Stud” and “Fugue in a Nursery”) entertaining and moving along as the story of love and loss is set up. Some might quibble, though, with his inconsistent Brooklyn accent and less-than-imposing stature (interesting that Fierstein didn’t trim references to Arnold’s weight and size). Ward Horton is appropriately conflicted as Ed, the bisexual teacher who leaves Arnold for Laurel (Roxanna Hope Radja), and Michael Rosen is spot on as Arnold’s true, ultimately tragic, love. David Zinn’s platform sets keep things flowing from backstage dressing room, to backroom bar, to the gigantic bed where all action in “Fugue” takes place.
But the real heartbreaker comes in the second act (the last play, “Widows and Children First”). That’s when Ma shows up, in the formidable presence of Mercedes Ruehl (Tony winner for “Lost in Yonkers”). The clash between mother and son is painfully brutal as Arnold seeks her respect for his choices, most notably his decision to adopt a troubled teenager (an intense Jack DiFalco, perhaps a tad too old to pull off 15).
This play is set in the ’70s, when same-sex marriage and adoption were far from mainstream, even for the most accepting. Late in the play Arnold, quite poignantly, says he’d like to tell his mother that what he wants “more than anything is to have exactly the life she did” — a family, husband, children. How prophetic of Fierstein to have even pondered those possibilities almost 40 years ago.