Places: Torch Song Trilogy

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1979

First produced: 1978-1979, at the Richard Allen Center, New York City

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Mid-1970’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*International Stud Bar

*International Torch Song TrilogyStud Bar. Gay men’s hangout in New York City’s Greenwich Village that contained the most notorious backroom bar of its time. Opened in 1969, it consisted of two rooms, one with a regular bar setup and the other a venue for casual sexual encounters. In Harvey Fierstein’s play, it is depicted onstage as a series of platforms with as little scenery as possible. The sparse sets force the audience to focus on the characters and not their surroundings.


Apartments. Both Arnold’s apartment and Ed’s apartment are merely platforms on stage; each is furnished with only one chair, one table, and one telephone. The chairs themselves are descriptive of their owners: Arnold’s is worn and comfortable, hinting at both his experience and his comfort with his sexuality, while Ed’s is new and straight, a reference to his prudish and closeted attitude toward his bisexuality.

Vacation house

Vacation house. Farmhouse in upstate New York where Ed and Laurel invite Arnold and his new lover, Alan, to spend the weekend. The set consists of an eight-by-nine-foot bed, heaped with all the props needed in the course of the play. The bed serves as all the rooms in the house. Although both couples are in the bed at the same time, they are illuminated separately so they never appear to be in bed together. The intent is to show the vulnerability of the characters without being offensive. The conversations are orchestrated in the same manner as the musical style of a fugue, and different colored lights are used to indicate the pairings when the conversations become more complex.

Arnold and David’s apartment

Arnold and David’s apartment. Two-bedroom apartment overlooking New York City’s Central Park. The stage directions describe it as “a realistically represented living/dining room and kitchenette.” In scene 3, the sofa doubles as a park bench. The nighttime Central Park setting is produced through the use of lightshields (gobos) and projections. This serves to make the audience aware of the simultaneous events unfolding.

BibliographyClarke, Gerald. “No One Opened Doors for Me.” Time 119 (February 22, 1982): 70. Explains Fierstein’s process in getting the play produced and the effect of the work’s success on his career.Dace, Tish. “Fierstein, Harvey (Forbes).” Contemporary Dramatists. 5th ed. Edited by K. A. Berney. London: St. James, 1993. Overview of Fierstein’s career, with emphasis on Torch Song Trilogy. Discusses the play’s themes and Fierstein’s styles of presentation, particularly the use of fugue.Fierstein, Harvey. “His Heart Is Young and Gay.” Interview by Jack Kroll. Newsweek 101 (June 20, 1983): 71. Fierstein explains why his play is not homosexual propaganda. Also explores the autobiographical nature of the play and a gay reaction against it.Oliver, Edith. “Tripleheader.” The New Yorker 58 (February 1, 1982): 116. One of the country’s foremost theater critics explains why Torch Song Trilogy deserves the high praise it has received. Excellent analysis of the characters.Wiloch, Thomas. “Fierstein, Harvey.” In Gay & Lesbian Literature, edited by Sharon Malinowski. London: St. James Press, 1994. Discusses the play’s thematic and stylistic similarities with Fierstein’s other prominent works including La Cage aux folles (1983).
Categories: Places