Barn’s 1980’s play examines sexual preferences, pitfalls

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By Bob Evans

Harvey Fierstein’s Tony Award winning play, “Torch Song Trilogy,” a play in three acts, shows the life of an emotional drag queen as he struggles with romance, awkward bisexual friends, and his over-bearing mother who never has no never will understand her gay son.

The comedy/drama opened Thursday, May 31 at The Barn Players current home, The Arts Asylum in downtown Kansas City Missouri. The show, ground-breaking at its time swings open the doors to the life of an ageing performer as he unfolds his life and his longing to find a suitable partner in New York City. His story takes the audience into the gay scene and the struggles he faces.

The first act opens in Arnold’s dressing room after a performance. Arnold delivers a long and touching monologue as he transforms from the gay performer to just a gay man with lots of baggage to unpack. On his way home, he encounters a

younger man and begins a gay relationship. But, Ed maintains that he’s not gay and that he like women as well as men. Their relationship and breakup set the tone for Acts II and III.

Act II presents an awkward situation when Ed and his new wife, Laurel, invite Arnold and his new boyfriend to spend a weekend at their country home. There, some interesting backgrounds emerge with all involved sharing some intimate secrets and desires that blur the lines of the relationships.

Act III makes a huge departure as life for Arnold has changed, he’s added an adopted son to his family, and his overbearing mother comes to visit. The motherly encounter strikes fear because Arnold has not told her of the son or of the death of his former lover, and the separation of Ed and his wife.

Comedy and drama build in each act from simple chuckles in Act I to more involved and awkward laughs in Act II, and the final act delivers the strongest statements of love, isolation, and resolve. Fierstein’s comedy presents an array of touching scenes that takes the audience though highs and lows of Arnold’s life.

Brilliantly acting of Phillip blue-owl Hooser and Ellie DeShon just takes the play to new heights. The play that focuses on Arnold’s life and romantic struggles comes to life through the fantastic performance of Hooser. On his shoulders the play succeeds or fails. In this case, “Torch Song Trilogy” looms as a huge success. The final act that pairs Hooser and DeShon is a roller-coaster ride with laughs and pains throughout. The gay life and the pain of both the son and mother come into raging conflict. “Torch Song Trilogy” definitely unfurls the raw emotions of the 1980s.

Two other actors new to The Barn give really good performances, Derrick Freeman as Ed navigates a difficult path as a bisexual in a time gayness was shunned and bisexual was an emerging thought. Another Barn newbie, Jennifer Loumiet’s character shows a different character in that she seems to always attract gay and bi friends, yet remains straight. She presents a very understanding and caring character in the face of conflicted sexual identities.

Brent Custer and Alex Leondedis round out the cast. Their characters add the depth to Acts II and III. Custer plays Alan, Arnold’s younger trophy lover for Act II. In Act III, Leondedis portrays David, the pending adopted gay son of Arnold. Both are strong in their parts and display good stage presence.

The play, even though long, does contain two intermissions so the audience gets a break between each of the acts. And, while the play is entertaining, it’s long. To get the audience in a good mood, 1970’s disco music opens the play as the theatre doors open, encouraging the audience to enjoy the music of the era. Even though the music is fun and upbeat, it does, at times seem over-done.

The Barn Players production of “Torch Song Trilogy” by Harvey Fierstein is directed by Chris McCoy; The play features Philip blue owl Hooser, Shelby Bessette, Brent Custer, Ellie DeShon, Raheem Fielder-Bay, Derrick Freeman, Sam Hoffman, Alex Leondedis, Jennifer Loumiet, and Lynn McCutchen. Stage management is by Grace Urquhart; Set design is by Nathan Wyman; Lighting design is by Zoe Spangler; Costume coordination is by Steven Ansel; Sound design is by Amanda Underwood; and Board operation is by Courtney Klein.

“Torch Song Trilogy” continues through June 10 at The Arts Asylum. Parking has improved slightly in the area surrounding the venue, but patrons should plan their routs beforehand as some bridges to the KC downtown have closed for summer repairs. Tickets are available at the box office or via The Barn Players website.
Tags: “Torch Song Trilogy”, The Barn Players, The Arts Asylum, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts and Entertainment

Images courtesy of Bob Evans, Vida Bikales/The Barn Player and Vida Bikales/The Barn Players

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