Torch Song Trilogy

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A new edition of the classic drama portraying gay life in New York in the 1970s and 80s—winner of the Tony Award for Best Play, now back on Broadway in a revival hailed by The New York Times as “irresistibly compelling.”

What begins as a chance encounter in a New York nightclub leads drag performer Arnold Beckoff on a hilarious yet touching pursuit of love, happiness, and a life he can be proud of. From a failed affair with a reluctant lover to a committed relationship with the promise of a stable family, Arnold’s struggle for acceptance meets its greatest resistance when he faces off against the person whose approval is most important to him: his mother.

This edition contains for the first time ever both the original scripts for the three one-act plays (The International Stud, Fugue in a Nursery, and Widows and Children First!) as they were performed in the 1970s, as well as the revised script for the 2017 revival that condensed all three into Torch Song. It also includes a never-before-published introduction by Harvey Fierstein, as well as photographs from both the original production and the revival starring Michael Urie and Mercedes Ruehl and directed by Moisés Kaufman.

Praise for Torch Song Trilogy

“Harvey Fierstein has created characters so vivid and real that they linger in the mind, talking the night away, long after the lights have been turned out and everyone has left.”Time

“Gorgeously funny . . . a devastatingly comic play with just the right resonances.”—New York Post 

“Sassy, sweet, and moving.”People

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Torch Song Trilogy

INTRODUCTION

“No work is precious.” I was raised on that credo since my days in art school, where my professor decreed, “It’s painting, not painted. Art is a verb.”
The three plays of Torch Song Trilogy were written and produced sequentially. I included enough backstory from one to the next so that each could be experienced independently, but in my mind I was telling a single tale.

The International Stud was written and performed at La MaMa E.T.C. in 1978. We moved it to a commercial run at the Players Theatre on MacDougal Street, where it ran a few months and closed.

The following season I wrote Fugue in a Nursery and premiered it at La MaMa E.T.C., as well. A commercial producer transferred it to the Orpheum Theatre on Second Avenue, where it, too, met commercial failure.

While awaiting that transfer I wrote the third part of the trilogy, Widows and Children First! Once again, it premiered at La MaMa, and once again it was optioned by a commercial producer. But when Fugue closed Off-Broadway I soured on the notion that Widows would do any better on its own than the first two had. Thankfully, that production never materialized.

The following June, John Glines was putting together a Gay Play Festival under the auspices of his theater company, The Glines, and asked if I could arrange a one-night event of readings from the trilogy. That was the first time I studied the script as a whole, to choose what scenes were necessary to tell the entire story in a brief presentation. The evening was a great success and proved to me that the plays needed to be seen together. Fortunately, John agreed.

The Richard Allen Center was a small theater in an office building across from Lincoln Center. It was there that Lawrence Lane, producing for The Glines, first presented Torch Song Trilogy. As standalone events, the individual plays were short, each running about ninety minutes, and the characters had leave to indulge themselves. But put together, and including intermissions, the unedited plays would have run an unwieldy five hours. Presenting the trilogy in one evening meant adopting urgency in the telling. Time became as rare a commodity as our Off-Off-Broadway budget.

My art school training rang in my ears: “No work is precious.” I slashed monologues and gags and chipped away at dialogue. In truth, I had another secret weapon emboldening my red pencil: No matter what kind of mess I made of this adaptation, the plays were already published in whole as a book, unedited and unabridged. They would survive their creator’s mucking about. Holding that tome in one hand freed the other hand to slash away.

And so, in the autumn of 1979, we presented a four-hour version of the trilogy to our ninety-nine seat audience. Well, that was the running time on nights when the theater’s single bathroom, shared by men, women, audience, actors, and house staff, didn’t overflow. And the audiences who made the trek up five flights of stairs in an otherwise empty office building loved what we had to offer.

The lure of a commercial production called again. The Actors Playhouse in the West Village would be our home, but to make the venture viable we needed to add matinees to our playing schedule. The producers asked if I could get the show under that four-hour mark so that we’d have time to eat and rest between performances on two-show days. But by now the trims were beginning to irk, as the actors had grown fond of their performances and didn’t want to give up any lines. I vowed a painful pledge to the other performers: For every line I cut of another’s character, I would cut one of my own. This made no one happy except for the crew, who’d get out of work even earlier.
Broadway was our next frontier, and there, rules come with penalties. The curtain had to ring down before 11:00 p.m. or there would be costly overtime due to the house and back- stage staff . Even with a 7:30 curtain, which was an unheard-of compromise in those days, I was sent back to chop more from the script. Still, our advertising team told us that we would never attract an audience until we moved to a standard 8:00 p.m. curtain. And one more time my pencil bled red and the actors’ tears owed, but I got it done. We achieved an 8:00 start and an 11:00 finish and went on to win the Tony Award as well as the Drama Desk for Best New Play. Torch Song Trilogy eventually ran 1,222 performances on Broadway, and that is the version that has been licensed and performed from 1982 until 2017.

- About the author -

Harvey Fierstein is the Tony Award-winning author of Torch Song Trilogy and La Cage Aux Folles. His other theater writing includes Kinky Boots (Tony-nominated), Newsies (Tony-nominated), Casa Valentina (Tony-nominated), A Catered Affair (twelve Drama Desk nominations), Safe Sex, Spookhouse, and Legs Diamond, among others. He wrote the teleplays of Hairspray Live! and The Wiz Live!, both for NBC. For HBO he’s written On Tidy Endings (Ace Award), The Sissy Duckling (Humanitas Award), and Common Ground. He’s written political editorials for The New York Times, HuffPost, TV Guide, and PBS, as well as authoring the beloved children’s book The Sissy Duckling. Beginning his acting career in Andy Warhol’s Pork at LaMama, Fierstein is also well-known for his theater performances, including Torch Song Trilogy (Tony Award), Hairspray (Tony Award), Fiddler on the Roof, La Cage Aux Folles, Gently Down the Stream, and A Catered Affair, as well as film performances in Mrs. Doubtfire, Independence Day, and Bullets Over Broadway. TV audiences know him from shows like The Good Wife, Nurse Jackie, and Cheers (Emmy-nominated) and recognize his voice from appearances on BoJack Horseman, Family Guy, The Simpsons, How I Met Your Mother, Mulan, and Sesame Street.

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Torch Song Trilogy

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Torch Song Trilogy

— Published by Ballantine Books —