Torch Song Trilogy is Harvey Fierstein’s groundbreaking portrait of a gay man’s struggle for respect and love in a homophobic world. The play, comprising three one acts titled “International Stud,” “Fugue in a Nursery,” and “Widows and Children First,” chronicles the journey of the central character, Arnold Becker, from a life of transitory sexual encounters with strangers in the back rooms of New York’s gay bars to his insistence on relationships based on commitment, respect, and love.
In the first play, “International Stud,” Arnold meets Ed Reiss in a gay bar. For Arnold, the encounter offers the possibility of an honest relationship that will put an end to his loneliness. Ed, however, sees his meeting with Arnold as simply a one-night stand and returns to his developing relationship with Laurel. He describes himself as bisexual but chooses to hide his gayness for fear of public opinion. Ed attempts to terminate the relationship but finds himself returning to Arnold and is even able to acknowledge his love for Arnold. Arnold, however, cannot accept an undercover and uncommitted relationship and finally walks away.
“International Stud” presents the reader with two characters who are at different places regarding their understanding of themselves. Arnold is comfortable with himself as a gay man and is in search of a lover who is also a friend. Ed, however, is in denial as to his sexuality and, therefore, incapable of giving himself to anyone as either friend or lover.
“Fugue in a Nursery” takes place one year after...
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The International Stud. In the first of the play’s three one-act segments, Arnold Beckoff, twenty-four years old, prepares for his performance as torch singer Virginia Hamm in a New York City nightclub. As he applies false eyelashes in his dressing room, Arnold complains about the difficulty of establishing successful romantic relationships. Disappointed with the casual nature of many gay encounters, Arnold longs for a committed, domestic relationship. Arnold meets Ed Reiss, a thirty-four-year-old teacher, in the International Stud bar. Arnold makes clear that he is not interested in a backroom sexual encounter, and Ed reveals that he also dates women. The men leave for Arnold’s apartment.
Four months later, Arnold waits for Ed to call. Arnold finally phones Ed, who is expecting a new friend—a woman named Laurel. Arnold declares his love for Ed and accuses him of preferring the woman because she will seem more acceptable to Ed’s parents. Ed insists that he loves Arnold but wants more than their relationship. Three months after his break-up with Ed, Arnold accompanies his friend, Murray, to the International Stud. Although he protests the impersonal backroom encounters, he finally allows Murray to talk him into venturing there, and another man has sex with him in the dark. Still not jaded, Arnold halfway expects the man to meet him outside the bar. Two months later, Ed comes to Arnold’s dressing room after a show. Still feeling rejected, Arnold asks Ed to leave, but Ed pleads for Arnold’s friendship. He tells of a good summer with Laurel and his parents at his farm in upstate New York. Despite the fact that he and Laurel are considering commitment, Ed declares that he still loves Arnold and confesses that he sometimes thinks about him during sex. Arnold decides that he loves Ed “enough” to endure the frustrations of their relationship, and the men leave together.
Fugue in a Nursery. One year later, Arnold and his new lover Alan, a handsome eighteen-year-old model and former hustler, spend a few days at the farm with Ed and Laurel. Laurel is excited about the visit, but Ed is jealous of Arnold’s solicitousness toward Alan. When Ed and Arnold disappear to review their relationship, Laurel makes a pass at Alan. Pressed by Ed to clarify his relationship with Alan, Arnold admits that he still spends two or three evenings a week in the International Stud’s back room. He explains that he stays with Alan because he feels somewhat maternal toward him. Ed recalls that he...
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