‘Torch Song Trilogy’
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It’s a notion to which many gay men can relate.
“He’s a bitchy queen — totally jaded, yet also a wide-eyed romantic. And above, he’s a survivor.”
That’s how Brandon Uranowitz describes Arnold Beckoff, the indomitable drag queen he plays in Studio Theatre’s current production of “Torch Song Trilogy.” Penned by raspy-voiced gay icon Harvey Fierstein, the bittersweet comedy chronicles Arnold’s intrepid search for love in New York City’s gay bars and determination to create family of own making despite the odds.
“One morning my agent called and asked if I knew the play,” says Uranowitz, 27. “Of course, I had. Most every gay actor has read ‘Torch Song.’ And once they have, it really resonates. Then my agent said he was submitting me for the lead, Arnold. I was thrilled.”
“Going in, my attitude was even if I don’t book the job, being able to work on the material even for a short time with director Michael Kahn [Shakespeare Theatre Company’s gay artistic director on loan to Studio] is a gift in itself. So that night I re-read the play alone in my apartment in New York City, laughing and sobbing — all very Arnold. I just needed to be eating a pint of ice cream to perfect the scenario.”
But Uranowitz almost didn’t get the audition much less the job. The show’s casting agent thought his head shot looked much too young. Arnold isn’t old, but he’s a character with gravitas, and apparently Uranowitz’s strong presence and acting chops weren’t coming through in the photo. Undeterred, his agent persevered and Uranowitz was finally permitted to show his stuff.
“The audition went well — really well,” he says. “Michael [Kahn] gave me a call back. At the call back he gave me the part. That’s a very unusual and wonderful thing, and may never happen again.”
“Torch Song” is comprised of three very different mini-plays in which Arnold’s skin thickens as he grows from needy, back room-cruising single to determined gay parent. Along the way he loses his heart to a mixed-up bisexual, settles down with a younger guy and battles his disapproving Jewish mother all while making a living doing drag in downtown Manhattan.
For the tough scenes between Arnold and Ma (played here by Gordana Rashovich), Uranowitz says he taps into the misgivings that most gay people experience when they’re contemplating coming out.
“My own coming out process was pretty smooth,” he says. “My parents have always been supportive, but even in the optimum circumstances it’s never an easy thing.”
“What is easy,” he quickly adds, “is working with Michael [Kahn]. To be in the room with someone who is so smart and who personally relates to the play has been an astounding, magical experience.”
At 6 years old, Uranowitz started after-school acting classes. Growing up in New Jersey just outside of New York City, he saw a lot of Broadway. His favorites were “Tommy,” “Crazy for You” and Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” After graduating from NYU’s acting program, Uranowitz rapidly began his professional career. He’s best known for his work in the Broadway musical “Baby It’s You!” and for playing Mark in the national touring company of “Rent.”
“Torch Song” is the New York-based actor’s first time playing a gay character.
“I feel on some level I’m making a difference. They’re feeling something. When this show opened on Broadway in the early ‘80s, it was a little shocking in its frank portrayal of gay life. Now it’s not. People can concentrate on the universality of the relationships.”
It’s also Uranowitz’s first foray into drag (Arnold’s style is a heavily painted Joan Crawford circa “Mildred Pierce”), and he’s liking it: “I’m a huge fan of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and I’m really thrilled to dress up like a woman.
“And for now I’m riding the wave of the show,” says Uranowitz. “It’s all wonderfully surreal. Of course, I’ll be completely depressed when it’s over and I have no new jobs lined up. But that’s the wonderful life of an actor.”