Actors Pass the Torch
Plays are a powerful art precisely because they allow audience members to live the emotions of others in situations they may never experience themselves. Torch Song Trilogy, performed from Thursday through Sunday last weekend, is no exception. As the men in the trilogy stretch and defy stereotypes, they face problems unknown to heterosexuals in the most human of ways, and therein lies what makes Torch Song so powerful.
The Trilogy, as one would expect, contained three acts that each functioned as its own play, coming to a total of four hours and twenty-five minutes. The lives of Arnold Beckoff, a gay torch singer, and Ed Reiss, a bisexual school teacher, create the running thread of the play as they twist in and out of each others’ lives. As Arnold Beckoff, senior Paul McKenney brought vitality to the play, delivering monologues in Act 2 and tirades in Act 3 with equal life and wit. In the most serious of moments, his well-delivered quips became the audience’s comic relief. Sophomore Raphael Sacks, similarly, transformed Ed Reiss, a muddled character by nature, into a charming and coherent mess.
In Act 1, Beckoff and Reiss spent most of their time alone onstage, and most of that time separately. McKenney proved to be just as capable of a powerful performance without other actors onstage. Engaged in conversation with a person the audience could neither see nor hear, McKenney was so specific as to conjure up an image of the person he was talking to, whoever that person might be.
In Act 2, the other significant others of Ed and Arnold came into the picture, wreaking (eventually resolved) havoc for all involved. The most striking thing about Act 2, however, was the lack of any clue to the vast changes referenced in Act 3. Alan, the love of Arnold’s life as of Act 3, was merely a boy he toyed with in Act 2. Laurel’s love for Ed, entirely one-sided in Act 2, appeared to have been reciprocated (somewhat) by Act 3.
By Act 3, with two strong characters in Arnold and Ed to root the play into the ground, other characters could blossom. Senior Gabriela Trigo-McIntyre, as Ma Beckoff, was one of these. She and McKenney made a gloriously dysfunctional mother-son duo, making the audience want to laugh as well as cry. As David Beckoff, Arnold’s adopted gay son, first-year Zachary Kampton was unceasingly funny, filling in Arnold’s place as the play’s comic relief while he turned his attention to parental concerns in two very different directions.
The power of Act 3, however, stemmed not from its comic moments but its heart-wrenching ones. Here, in Act 3, the play was at its most personal and most political, set up either to climax or fall from its apex onto the hard ground of the black box. It did not fail. Ma Beckoff’s bigotry became seen as the bigotry of all those who proclaim that straight is right and gay is wrong, and the personal was the political. Only then could the play end, as it did, with applause.