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Onyx’s ‘Torch Song’ harrowingly effective

The first minutes of the Onyx Theatre’s “Torch Song Trilogy (Act III)” found me in a foul mood. And with good reason. But by the time the nearly two-hour production (with intermission) was over, directors Mary O’Brien and John Begley and cast had won me over.

I was bothered that some of the promotional copy (such as the title page on the program notes) mentioned the title of Harvey Fierstein’s celebrated 1981 play without specifying that only one act was being performed. And the ads that did mention it demanded that you look close to catch it. Also, the directors say in the notes that “Live theater does not allow the time to do all three plays.” Hundreds of productions across the nation give doubt to that claim.

But it didn’t take me long to forgive. The show, while uneven and a tad monotonous, is harrowingly effective.

Arnold (Tony Blosser) is worried about a pending visit from Mother (Anne Davis Mulford). Will she understand why he has adopted a 15-year-old troubled boy (Eric Krueger)? Will she tolerate the presence of a bisexual friend (Dustin Munro)? Will she finally accept her son’s homosexuality? The answer, of course, is no on all counts.

You can quibble with lots of things, but the most important elements have come out right. The directors take care that we don’t see the mother as a one-dimensional henpecker. Blosser and Mulford go at each other with a ferocity that’s frightening (and just as often funny). Still, you always feel the love between them. Those who have had to say to a parent, “Your values are not mine,” are likely to recognize themselves here.

The actors look comfortable. Blosser is likable. Yet, you can see how capable he is of getting on everyone’s nerves.

Mulford is a bit much on one level, but she establishes a genuine rapport with Blosser, so that you believe they are mother and son. Mulford never judges her character, never makes her silly. She allows us to feel for her, even as we cringe at what she says.

Krueger as the adopted son has an energetic and playful stage personality. And Munro as the bisexual is blessed with a manner that’s appealing and natural.

Michael Morse’s surprisingly detailed set looks like the sort of place Arnold would live in. It has the feeling of life.

I came away enormously moved. At long last, Vegas may have a quality gay playhouse on its hands.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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