The Billy Wilder Theatre at UCLA’s Hammer Museum treated Angelenos to a very rare screening of the 1988 classic, Torch Song Trilogy. Based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway play of the same name by Harvey Fierstein, the film stars Anne Bancroft, Matthew Broderick, Brian Kerwin, and Fierstein himself in the lead role of Arnold.
The Torch Song Trilogy tells the story of Arnold Beckoff (Fierstein), a middle-aged homosexual drag performer and torch singer who is desperate to find love and start a family in 1970s New York. Arnold meets and falls in love with a bisexual schoolteacher named Ed (Kerwin), whose sexual insecurities ultimately put a strain on their complicated relationship. The film and play each derive their title from the plays’ original Off-Off Broadway format. The stage version was originally written as three separate one-act plays, “The International Stud”, “Fugue in a Nursery”, and “Widows and Children First!”. After each individual play made their respective debuts at La Mama, E.T.C., the show was later mounted Off-Broadway in its full-length as “Torch Song Trilogy”. The show was such a success that it was later moved to Broadway, upon which Fierstein won the 1983 Tony Award for Best Play, as well as Best Actor in a Play for his performance as Arnold. Fierstein was later asked to write the screenplay for the feature film adaptation and reprise his role as Arnold, marking his big-screen debut.
The film provides an intricate look at gay life in the 1970s and how difficult it proved to be accepted by not just loved ones, but society as a whole. Fierstein’s tale of love, loss, and the power of family is a treat for everyone.
Torch Song Trilogy is available on DVD.