Written by Patrick Chavis
(Warning – this show is not for children and includes dark material).
Aptly titled Torch Song Trilogy, this stripped down rendition of the Tony Award winning show is a slow burning epic about a drag queen. Directed by Tito Ortiz, the story is truly touching, and it’s a shame it isn’t performed more often. If or when you miss this show, you will be missing a truly great production in Orange County Theatre history.
Torch Song Trilogy is about Arnold (Andrew James Villarreal), an outspoken homosexual drag queen living in 1970s New York before the AIDS epidemic. The story develops around Arnold and the love of his life, or (as he would say) the International Stud of His Life, Ed (Alessandro Nori). Ed happens to be bisexual. He is plainspoken and handsome, but his heart is torn between his love for Arnold and his lady love Laurel. Arnold and Ed are undeniably in love, but because of life, timing and an assortment of other variables, the end result of this four-hour drama is never known until the last flicker of light.
The execution of the story through Tito Ortiz’s direction in this production is engaging and fully realized acting. The prep work and time put into this show must have been exhausting, not only because of the length but because of the dialogue, especially Arnold’s lines. The dialogue is as rapid fire as any Aaron Sorkin (who is famous for writing fast talking people) script. There is a noticeable lack of set, forcing the audience to use their imaginations at points, which is strong during certain points of the show, especially when it culminates in one of the weirdest yet most creative moment I’ve ever seen on the stage. This is definitely a show for adults since it could be argued there’s a voluntary rape scene in this show. Let me explain, back in the 70’s there were gay sex clubs with non-existent lighting, so you couldn’t see anything. People would have sex, but sometimes they didn’t know who they were actually having sex with. It happened a lot more back in the 70’s because they weren’t aware of the dangers of HIV. Anyways, with everything I’ve just said, this is dark comedy done right. I didn’t know whether to laugh or be disturbed, so I laughed.
There are certain elements in this show that are lacking or useless to the story in my estimation, which are the lack of creative set changes and the moments of unnecessary singing and dancing. The cast dressed up like drag queens that are used to transition into the next scene and it wasn’t needed. Perhaps if they were actually singing in these transitions instead of lip synching, it might have brought an interesting layer to the show. Instead it just felt tagged on.
Not a single weak link in this cast. Of course it all feeds off of Andrew Jame Villarreal’s portrayal of Arnold. He’s a revolution on stage and matched well with Alessandro Nori, who also has some very strong moments in this production. Jennifer Pearce, who plays Laurel (Ed’s other love interest), plays her part with a deep understanding of the character and plot, providing a more stable, less argumentative foil to the often abrasive Arnold.
Fittingly, Julia London, accompanied by a few other torch singers of the era, sing most of the music in the show. The lighting, while not exceptional, gets the job done, and it’s used in pivotal moments during the story.
The show is three acts and about four hours, so I recommend bringing a snack or something because you’re going to be in the theatre for a while. It a long show, but it’s all necessary to tell the story. What can I say? I cried multiple times. It made me understand someone completely different than me in almost every way. This is masterful storytelling and acting at it’s best. Torch Song will make you cry, laugh and think all the way home.
April 30th- May 7th 2016
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