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Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009

Epic Drama

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Harvey Fierstein's classic drama Torch Song Trilogy resides in a time when mainstream acceptance of sexual diversity was just beginning to blossom in America, somewhere between the Stonewall riots of the late-'60s and the public acknowledgment of AIDS in the early-'80s. In an exhaustive story that plays out over the course of more than four hours and spans a number of years in the lives of its characters, Fierstein explores complex issues facing homosexuals and bisexuals. Spiral Theatrestages a production of the epic drama this week in the basement of the Plymouth Church (2717 E. Hampshire Ave.). It is the second-to-last show in Spiral Theatre's final season in Milwaukee, as the company recently announced that it would be moving to the Twin Cities.

Mark Hagen (known to some as the charming, red-haired, bespectacled Dear Miss Ruthie) stars in the lead role of Arnold Beckoff, a New York-based, torch-song-singing Jewish drag queen. The play follows the life of Beckoff in three distinct acts. In the first act Beckoff meets Ed (Brian Richards), a schoolteacher who is not entirely comfortable with his bisexuality. Beckoff falls for Ed, a situation complicated by the woman in his life, played by Kelly Simon. The second act takes place a year later, with Arnold and Ed having moved in together and looking to adopt a child. In the final act we see Arnold and his adoptive son years later.

The stark, minimalist staging of the church basement should suit the production. "Looking back at this pre-AIDS play through our modern lens, we see a post-postmodern apocalyptic warehouse-type set wrapped in plastic sheets, as if the city has been devastated by a future disaster that the characters cannot possibly know about," says Spiral Artistic Director Mark Hooker.

The provocative idea of visually placing the story within the context of future events should provide a unique perspective. "The characters go about their lives as if they are living within their normal parameters, not realizing the devastation of their surroundings," Hooker says.

Spiral Theatre's production of Torch Song Trilogy runs Feb. 6-15 at Plymouth Church.