How Theatre Opens Up New Worlds

How Theatre Opens Up New Worlds VIEW FROM THE AUDIENCE -- October, 1996

VIEW FROM THE AUDIENCE -- October, 1996


Recently my husband and I took our 16-year-old niece to see Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk. As I watched her body language and facial expressions during the show, I was reminded of the time we took our teen-age daughter to see Harvey Fierstein's controversial play Torch Song Trilogy. After seeing the play, my daughter insisted that I write to Mr. Fierstein and tell him just how much we enjoyed the show. I did!

The year was 1985, and Broadway was having a championship season. Shows like Cats, A Chorus Line, Brighton Beach Memoirs and 42nd Street were playing to standing-room audiences. Torch Song Trilogy, which had captured the 1983 Tony and Drama Desk awards for Best Play, was one of the hottest tickets in town. So when a friend invited my husband and I to join him in seeing the show, we accepted with pleasure. And when this generous friend suddenly took ill and asked us to invite our 16-year-old daughter in his place, we didn't hesitate. Not until the usher led us to our seats, did I wonder if I had made a mistake.

After all, when Torch Song debuted in the eighties, it was ground-breaking theatre, much like George C. Wolfe's 'Da Noise, 'Da Funk is today. Fierstein tackled the subjects of love and marriage, monogamy and homophobia in three heart-wrenching acts that had us crying one minute and laughing the next. While the image of two men sharing the same bed in Act Two literally propelled the two couples behind us from their seats, my daughter had long since abandoned her M&M's, her eyes now permanently glued to the actors onstage. I promised her that I would write to Mr. Fierstein and tell him how much the play had affected us all. I did, and he replied: "Sure go ahead, tear my heart out! . . . I am deeply grateful that you were so touched . . . You are what this world needs; a soul open enough to ask questions and strong enough to accept odd answers."

I believe that being exposed to plays like Torch Song helped shape my daughter's future, her career choices and more importantly, the way she views people. She went on to study theatre and to perform. Today, at age 29, she is a theatrical agent in N.Y., with several clients appearing on Broadway.

As for my niece, I don't know if she was affected by watching Savion Glover and company deliver a powerful history lesson, but I hoped that she was. And I don't know if she told her friends about this fabulously talented black kid who danced his heart and soul out‹and made her laugh and cry. But I hope she did. Before seeing the show, my niece told me that she didn't know much about the play, only that it was about tap dancing. She thought she'd like it well enough, but probably not as much as the dinner we promised her at the Hard Rock Cafe. As she watched the performance, she ate her M&M's one at a time, like my daughter had done years earlier, until she was completely involved in the show, which came early in Act One during Glover's performance of "Slave Ships."

I have seen many plays since 1985, but not since Harvey Fierstein bounded onstage wearing his bunny slippers and striking a pose for tolerance was I so moved by a show. During Savion Glover's performance I watched my niece squirm in her seat as the bold rhythms of injustice and prejudice reverberated throughout the theatre. She never did finish her candy. When the performance was over, she was on her feet, clapping and screaming. As we left the theatre, she didn't say very much except that she wasn't in the mood for the Hard Rock Cafe, just yet, and if it was okay, could we just walk for a while.

-- By Isabel Kogen