Originally a one-act play consisting of five scenes,
It is a play that, despite its flaws, can speak to everyone about life and love.
As we enter, Arnold is seated at his table, surrounded by a rack of dresses, miming to background music and somewhat heavily applying his makeup as he drags up for his show. His monologue proves to be an important expose of his rather shallow life without genuine love or a meaningful relationship. By definition, a torch song is a sentimental lament for what might have been. It is legitimately self-indulgent. Fierstein observed that he wrote it for himself and went on to play it superbly using the powerful resonance of his Jewish Brooklyn voice, a constant assertion of the play’s New York setting.
CJ de Mooi’s performance is far removed from this. He takes most of the lines at breakneck speed in a rather irritating accent. His is a petulant and angry outburst that fails to sufficiently contrast the tough with the tender and the resilient with the vulnerable. He maintains this ranting mood for most of play and only occasionally in later scenes are the barriers to the real Arnold broken down and his inner depths revealed.
As Arnold exits, Ed appears in a local hangout and we hear his side of a conversation he is having with Arnold. They leaving together. For those who wonder what Ed sees in Arnold the rocky ride of the rest of their journey together – and mostly apart – comes as no surprise. Frustrated yet again as he sees the writing on the wall Arnold heads to another local bar suggested in the play’s title. The International Stud is not a character, and certainly not Arnold, but was the name of a gay bar that formerly existed in Greenwich Village. Along with similar dives it had a back-room where men could engage in anonymous sex in the dark. With mixed emotions Arnold does just this.
Meanwhile, Ed’s life is moving on. Reed Stokes shines throughout in this role as the rather naive, confused bisexual country boy visiting the big city. His affectionate references to his family and life on the ranch reveal his closeness to them and the stability of his roots, in stark contrast to the lonely turmoil of Arnold’s existence. In moving expressions of love for both Arnold and later Laurel he opens up his mixed orientation, capturing the emotional tension it creates between his two natures, and we are confronted with his dilemma and the frustration of wanting the best of both worlds.
This is an important play in the history of drama about gay issues. Given that the first recognised case of AIDS in the USA was diagnosed in 1980 it stands as the last major pre-AIDS work that could revel in the thrill of an uninhibited lifestyle on the gay scene. It is also a play that, despite its flaws, can speak to everyone about life and love.