International Stud

Originally a one-act play consisting of five scenes, The International Stud premiered Off-Off-Broadway in 1978 and later became the first part of Harvey Fierstein's landmark work, Torch Song Trilogy, which opened three years later.

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.

Reviews by Richard Beck

PRINT ROOM at THE CORONET

The Outsider (L’Étranger)

★★★★
Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Prairie Flower

★★
Jermyn Street Theatre

About Leo

★★★★
Orange Tree Theatre

Losing Venice

★★★★
The Queen's Theatre

Abi

★★★★
The Queen's Theatre

Abigail's Party

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

After a successful collaboration in London last year with the UK premiere of Harvey Fierstein's Safe Sex and On Tidy Endings, director Dan Phillips and CJ de Mooi (BBC's Eggheads) come together for this seminal play which shook audiences when it first arrived 37 years ago. International Stud is the Tony Award-winning opening chapter of Fierstein's Torchsong Trilogy and follows drag queen Arnold on his search for love in the backrooms of the 1980s gay club scene. Exploring sexuality and identity, International Stud reflects on a subject which still speaks loudly today.