Torch Song Trilogy was originally conceived and performed as three separate one-act plays: The International Stud (pr. 1976), Fugue in a Nursery (pr. 1979), and Widows and Children First! (pr. 1979). As the completed three-act, four-hour, Tony Award-winning play Torch Song Trilogy, each act retains its original title.
“The International Stud” opens to the soulful strains of a torch song, sung by Lady Blues. The stage is divided into five sections, each characterized by a minimal number of props: Lady Blues’s dais with its grand piano, Arnold’s dressing room with its vanity table, Arnold’s apartment with its comfortable chair, Ed’s apartment with its uncomfortable chair, and the International Stud platform, a bare but successful evocation of a typical gay back-room bar.
In Scene 1, the audience is introduced to Arnold, a witty Jewish drag queen who, while primping at his vanity, delivers a long, poignant, self-deprecatory, and self-revealing soliloquy, in which he conveys his surprisingly conventional views on men, love, and relationships.
Scene 2 is played in the front room of the International Stud, a New York bar where Arnold meets Ed. Both men decide to forgo the immediate gratifications available in the back room and instead retire to Arnold’s apartment, where Lady Blues’s third song accentuates the tentativeness of their first sexual encounter.
Scene 3 finds an anxious and rejected Arnold waiting for a telephone call from the less-than-attentive Ed. In the call that follows, initiated by Arnold, Ed’s bisexuality is revealed, and the inevitable conflict between Arnold’s flamboyant homosexuality and Ed’s confused bisexuality results in an estrangement between the two men.
Scene 4 finds Arnold back at the International Stud with his friend Murray, who cajoles him into the back room despite Arnold’s protestations that he is old-fashioned, likes his sex in a bed, and does not “see sex as a spectator sport.” What follows is a very bawdy, humorous scene in which Arnold, alone onstage, pantomimes sex with an unseen partner, who is apparently disturbed by his ingenuous attempt to humanize the...
(The entire section is 907 words.)