Arts

The cast of Torch Song Trilogy in action at Academic Hall. Photo: Glynis Ellens

TotoToo productions presents three-part play dealing with LGBTQ+ themes

The act of reimagining an established work on the stage is usually a daunting task for any theatre company.

But this wasn’t the case for Ottawa-based LGBTQ+ theatre company TotoToo, who had no qualms about bringing Harvey Fierstein’s 1983 Tony-award-winning play Torch Song Trilogy to life for a local audience.

Playing Sept. 717 at the University of Ottawa’s Academic Hall, the production follows Arnold Beckoff as he progresses through life as a Jewish drag queen in 1970s New York.

The story is broken into three acts, each depicting a distinct moment in Arnold’s life. Starting with his first love in International Stud, Arnold moves in with a new man and settles down into the closest thing to “marriage” possible for himself in Fugue in a Nursery. Finally, he faces parenthood as a single father in Widows and Children First!  

Directed by Ottawa’s Sarah Hearn, the play earned lots of laughs and was easily relatable to a large audience.

After all, this is part of TotoToo’s mission statement, since they strive to educate the community on the different challenges and experiences the LGBTQ+ community faces. With Fierstein’s production, issues ranging from dishonesty to violence to the complexities of human love are put on display in a darkly humorous way.

“This show is a lot about love,” says Sam Dietrich, who plays Arnold. “It deals with themes of LGBTQ+ issues, but more than anything this show is about people not being honest with each other.”

Although it was, as cast member Cathy Nobleman phrased it, “divine synchronicity,” that the cast came together, she stresses that it was a learning experience for everyone involved.

Nobleman was drawn to her character, remarking that she had never played a full blown antagonist before.

“It was a really interesting challenge for me, to figure out what’s driving her, why she says the things she does.”

Ma Beckoff, played by Nobleman who appears in the final act, is a character who embodies all the stereotypes of the misunderstanding mother, who, despite wanting the best for her child, cannot comprehend accepting her son’s openly gay lifestyle.

Ryan van Buskirk, who plays Arnold’s gay teenaged son in the final act, was attracted to the play’s vivacity, stating that “Even with script in hand, the dialogue was so lively.”

From the first act until the closing curtain, each moment is filled with snappy back-and-forth banter, a theatricality that’s inherent to Arnold’s character. Despite the play’s ability to elicit more than a few laughs, it also presents a definite undertone of confusion, loneliness, and isolation through the experience of each of the characters.

A brilliant cast brings each character to life in a unique way, with wit, sarcasm, and dry humour are present in even the most highly charged moments of the show. Despite a few dated references that may not be widely understood by a younger audience, the production is incredibly relatable to anyone who has experienced extreme love, grief, or confusion.

The four-hour show flies by, with every scene bringing you closer to each character’s struggles—hopefully allowing the audience to empathize with those in their own lives that struggle in similar ways.

Torch Song Trilogy is playing at Academic Hall until Sept. 17. Tickets can be purchased online, at tototoo.ca, or at the theatre itself before the show.