Eric Concklin, groundbreaking director of experimental theatre who staged the original Off-Off-Broadway debuts of Harvey Fierstein’s three short plays that later became the Tony-winning Torch Song Trilogy, has died after a long illness.
Concklin and Fierstein had a close artistic collaboration in the 1970s and 1980s. Concklin staged Fierstein’s Spookhouse Off-Broadway in 1984, and earned his one Broadway credit directing Fierstein’s Safe Sex, which had a nine-performance run at the Lyceum Theatre in 1987.
Fierstein’s three plays The International Stud, Fugue in a Nursery, and Widows and Children First! all dealt with drag artist Arnold Beckoff and his dogged search for love and happiness despite setbacks and tragedies. All three were directed by Concklin at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Company in 1978 and 1979 respectively.
Ozzie Rodriguez, director of the archives at La Mama, told Playbill, “Eric performed in many capacities here and he was an amazing standby to Ellen Stewart [founder and longtime artistic director of LaMaMa]. Eric wasn’t just a director here, he was a producer, a stage manager, and appeared multiple times as an actor. He was absolutely instrumental in urging Harvey to make his plays into a trilogy. After we produced The International Stud, it was Eric who suggested that Harvey go back to Ellen and tell her it’s going to be a trilogy.”
The three plays were later combined into the four-hour Torch Song Trilogy, which was directed on Broadway by Peter Pope. It opened on Broadway in June 1982, won the Tony as Best Play in 1983, and went on to run 1,222 performances. It was adapted as a film in 1988 starring Fierstein, Matthew Broderick, and Anne Bancroft.
Fierstein tweeted about his friend and collaborator December 6, saying “My friend ERIC CONCKLIN has died. He directed the orig. prods of the 3 plays that became TORCH SONG. Friends for nearly 50 years. This 1 is hard. But one last time I want to say THANK YOU.”
Concklin began his career as an actor on stage and in experimental films, appearing in the Off-Off-Broadway The Rats Are Coming at Caffe Cino and in the John Guare/Sam Shepard double bill Muzeeka/ Red Cross at the Provincetown Playhouse in 1968, before turning to directing.
Concklin pursued the majority of his career at LaMaMa. His credits include Honky Tonk Trash, Cotton Club Gala, What Is Making Gilda So Gray?, The Haunted Host, Julia Caesar, and The White Whore and Bit Player.
“He was available to many people and respected by so many of them,” Rodriguez said. “He was a hard-working, tasteful, and giving person. You can see by the lists of plays he was involved with: imagine the number of people he influenced!”
Among his other credits, Concklin was the original manager of the early 1970s drag dance troupe, The Trockadero Gloxinia Ballet Company, which branched off as the acclaimed Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.