Torch Song Trilogy is the second of Harvey Fierstein’s plays. His first play, Spookhouse (pr. 1984), was a somewhat shocking black comedy about a meddlesome social worker, who tries to force an unwilling mother, the operator of a spookhouse, to accept her drug-addict adolescent son back into her home, such as it is. Rape, immolation, and family violence compete with a hard-edged, campy humor for centerstage in this uneven early work.
Fierstein’s third play, La Cage aux Folles (pr. 1983), is a musical adaptation of the comic French play, of the same name, by Jean Poiret. Fierstein’s love of music, his familiarity with the life of female impersonators, and his wit all find full range in this somewhat lightweight and calculating attempt to reach an even wider Broadway audience. Torch Song Trilogy is lodged in Fierstein’s oeuvre like a diamond between two flashy—but lesser—semiprecious stones.
In social terms, Torch Song Trilogy has a secure place as a major document of the gay liberation movement of the 1970’s. What makes it more important and more successful than much writing of that period is that it does not express any strident or easily outdated political views but simply celebrates gay experience as another valid, interesting way to be in the world. As long as love and respect are topics of intelligent speculation, Torch Song Trilogy will have something important to add to the continuing dialogue.