Power play

Characters return to stage a desperate dance in Le Chat Noir’s season-opening play about relationships on the edge.

AUGUSTA, GA. – It’s been a year since we’ve seen the acid-tongued drag queen Arnold, and love has found him. But not much else has progressed for him. He’s still doing his act. He’s still pining for companionship — and he’s still pushing it away.

“The only thing that’s changed for him is that he has a new boyfriend,” said Richard Justice, who reprises the lead role of Arnold in “Torch Song Trilogy: Fugue in a Nursery,” Le Chat Noir’s first offering in its second season.

“Fugue” is the second section of the Tony Award-winning play by Harvey Fierstein. The play picks up after the “The International Stud” ends, but audiences who skipped that first installment won’t miss a thing. Enough of the back story is explained so that audiences can keep up.

“The plays, they all three stand alone. It’s just a sort of catching up with an old friend,” Justice said. All you basically need to know is that Arnold and Ed (Doug Joiner, who returns to the role) dated previously, and that didn’t work out real well in the end.”

Now, Ed’s new girlfriend, Laurel (Ashley Poteet), invites Arnold to their country house for the weekend. Arnold initially resists, but his new lover, Alan (Brett Hall), wants to go. Laurel, in welcoming her boyfriend’sex-boyfriend into her home, reveals herself to be a woman possessed of either great selflessness or cunning.

“She needs to size him up,” Poteet explained, so perhaps she possesses a little of both. “Everyone obviously has a hidden agenda, and they are revealed at the end of the play.”

More than agendas are revealed as the planned pleasantries devolve into a desperate dance of desire. Characters switch conversational and then emotional partners. Call this a tango, an emotional chess game, a power play. They wrestle control, love and security with manipulation and secrecy. If honesty appeared, personified, these people would probably beat him back with a rake.

“The question that enters my mind is to what extent are we allowed to hurt other people?” Joiner said. “How far can we push each other until we crack?”

His character, Ed, has nestled himself very safely in a heterosexual relationship. But his bond with Arnold is not broken.

The witty cynicism of the first play is sugared by the almost painful civility that begins the relationship and soured by the finishing flourish.

Lost among the whirling dervishes is Arnold. He is his own torch song, a sentimental lament for unrequited or lost love. But it is Arnold’s almost pathological sympathy that dominates the exchanges.

“My personal take on it is I think he has lofty ideas about love and relationships and no one will ever live up to those expectations — and neither will he,” Justice said. “Deep down, Arnold doesn’t feel like he deserves anything.”

But Arnold doesn’t merely survive. He hopes. And in the end, he will need to.

“Torch Song Trilogy: Fugue in a Nursery”
Le Chat Noir
Aug. 10-11, 17-18, 23-24 and 26
8 p.m.


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