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In 1982, Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy,” a four-hour autobiographical play about a drag queen who longs for nothing more than to settle down with a regular guy, looked very much like an act of cultural revolution. That it won a best-play Tony, ran for three years on Broadway and was then turned into a movie suggests in retrospect, however, that Mr. Fierstein’s play might not have been quite so radical as it once seemed. So does the first New York revival of what is now called “Torch Song,” from which he’s cut an hour and a half (you won’t miss it) and in which the lead role is being played not by the author but by Michael Urie, formerly of “Ugly Betty.” More than two years after same-sex marriage became the law of the land, “Torch Song” is looking more like a commercial comedy about a nice Jewish boy and his impossible mother—and a pretty good one, too.
The only thing wrong with Second Stage’s off-Broadway revival of “Torch Song,” which has been very effectively directed by Moisés Kaufman, is Mr. Urie, a fine actor who is miscast as Mr. Fierstein (yes, he’s called “Arnold Beckoff” in the play, but we all know who he really is). Whether on stage or screen, Mr. Fierstein was unforgettable, and to see Mr. Urie trying to put his own stamp on the part merely underlines why his predecessor was so good in it….
The most frequently produced play in America is a new stage adaptation of a 19-year-old movie—one that has yet to make it to New York. Lee Hall’s “Shakespeare in Love,” concocted by Disney Theatrical Productions, opened in London in 2014 and is being performed on 15 different U.S. stages this season….
If, like me, you’re dismayed by the rise of what I call “commodity theater,” of which screen-to-stage adaptations of hit movies like “Shakespeare in Love” are exemplary, then you won’t be thrilled by this piece of news. On the other hand, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, which has just brought it to the East Coast, is a dead-serious company that does consistently fine work. If they’re doing “Shakespeare in Love,” there must be something to it, right? So I went out to New Jersey to see for myself, and I’m happy to say that the results are enormous fun.
I suspect this has everything to do with Bonnie J. Monte’s production, which is being performed on a miniature replica of an Elizabethan theater built on the stage of her company’s elegantly proportioned 308-seat proscenium house. Instead of emulating the film’s prettified slickness, Ms. Monte has opted to play “Shakespeare in Love” straight down the middle, trusting Tom Stoppard’s matchlessly witty dialogue to speak for itself….
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To read my review of Torch Song, go here.
To read my review of Shakespeare in Love, go here.
Harvey Fierstein’s opening monologue from Paul Bogart’s screen version of Torch Song Trilogy:
The trailer for the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey production of Shakespeare in Love: