‘Torch Song Trilogy’ Stands Test Of Time

By |2014-04-20T09:00:00-04:00April 20th, 2014|Entertainment|

By Dana Casadei

It’s the first scene for John Nowaczyk during a recent rehearsal of “Torch Song Trilogy.” Nowaczyk’s character, Ed, is trying to get the attention of Jamie Richards’ Arnold.
“Did you feel seduced Jamie?” Nowaczyk jokes.
After a brief pause Richards says “yes” before sending an email from his phone. Then the two men get on stage for their first scene together.
Three weeks from opening night and both are still on-book for Act I. That doesn’t seem to bother director Jerry Haines, who willingly gives lines if either asks.
“It’s a great environment to work in,” Richards says. “He (Haines) knows I have a hard time, not once the show opens, but learning my lines as I get older. He gives me a lot of leeway on that, which is very nice, because I’m scared shitless.”
It doesn’t help that this is a dream role Richards thought he would never get a chance to play. Or that Broadway great Harvey Fierstein originated the role. Or that Fierstein won a Tony Award for it. Or that … well, there’s plenty of reasons for Richards to be scared shitless. But Haines knew quickly that Richards would be perfect for Arnold.
“Jamie came prepared; you don’t always get that,” Haines says. “He (Jamie) read with Rae (McIntosh), who is playing the mother, and I knew instantly that he was right.”
“Aw thanks,” Richards replies.
Richards jokes that his role is very small, that he’s just the annoying neighbor who talks a lot. Half of that is true; his character does talk a lot, but the role isn’t small.
During the three-hour-plus play, Richards portrays Arnold Beckhoff. Each act will see Arnold, a gay drag queen living in New York, at a different stage in his life. The show was written in the early ’80s, which Haines says gives it some character. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant today.
“When Harvey Fierstein wrote this, I don’t know that he had any idea that it would stand the test of time, but it has,” Haines says. “The themes in it ring true today.”
While the play focuses largely on gay men, on them getting married and starting a family, Richards says that the situations could be applied to anyone, gay or straight, single or in a relationship; Fierstein’s text is that good. Richards says that all you would have to do is change a couple pronouns and the play could easily be about a heterosexual couple. Fights, loves and losses – it’s all about the human experience.
“Those struggles are always going to be there,” Richards says. “Until we’re all robots.”
In all seriousness, though, both men are glad that Stagecrafters is taking a risk on a show like this – especially on its main stage. More conservative shows tend to be done there.
When Haines found out that the selection committee was considering this show, he was “all about it,” even though he only knew the 1988 film.
“That was enough for me,” Haines laughs. “When I finally read the play, I was like, ‘Whoa.’ Then when I got the show I was like, ‘This is huge.'”
But neither Richards or Haines wanted to merely repeat what was done on Broadway. Richards is quick to say that he is no Fierstein. Plus, he didn’t want to just do a gravelly voiced impression. He also said the show was intimidating because of how close he’s always felt to it. It’s been a big part of his life as a gay man.
Haines wanted to take the show on its merit and make sure audiences see Arnold as Jamie, not Fierstein. It was also important to keep the show fresh, new and real.
“For me that’s what will make this work,” Haines says. “And then there’s the drag queen.”
The show was originally written for a torch singer, who shows up in Act I and in between some scenes at a piano. Since Stagecrafters is doing four musicals this year, “Torch Song Trilogy” didn’t get a budget to cover musicians. Enter Marcuz Weatherspoon as Lady Blue, the aforementioned drag queen. Haines said Lady Blue will open each act.
“I’m really looking forward to how it all comes together at this point,” Haines says.
And don’t you worry about Richards. “I will have my lines,” he says. “I promise.”

‘Torch Song Trilogy’
$18-20. Stagecrafters, Baldwin Theatre, 415 S. Lafayette Ave., Royal Oak. 8 p.m. March 28-29, April 3-5 & 10-12; and 2 p.m. March 30, April 6 & 13. 248-541-6430. http://www.Stagecrafters.org

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Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.