‘Torch Song,’ ‘Barefoot’ genre bookends for The Studio Players’ season

If you’re not sure you’re sold on one production by The Studio Players, wait five minutes. Something totally different will come along.

The community theater organization that feeds on edgy but loves nostalgia for dessert is offering both Harvey Fierstein‘s “Torch Song” (Sept. 10-26) and Neil Simon‘s “Barefoot in the Park” (March 18-April 10) in its coming season. Sprinkled in among those two are:

  • “Nuts” (Nov. 5-21), the Tom Topor courtroom drama of a call girl who fights her parents’ motion to declare her mentally unfit and spare her the charge she is facing. Barbra Streisand created the character in a 1987 film adaptation of the play.
  • “Slow Food” (Jan. 14-30), a new play by Wendy MacLeod about a couple whose anniversary dinner evening has holes punched in it by an importuning waiter who wants to micromanage their experience.
  •  “All New People” (June 3-19), a comedy by Zach Braff about a man whose plans to commit suicide are continuously interrupted by strangers who could have easily driven him to the brink themselves.

It’s the kind of polar swing that is The Studio Players’ stock in trade, Scott Lilly, artistic director, says. 

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“I would say that we want to do serious, groundbreaking plays. On the flip side of that we’re still going to have our goofy moments,” he said. “We did that last spring. We did ‘On Golden Pond,’ a family drama, and followed it with ‘One Slight Hitch,’ which is the slamming-doors kind of visual comedy.'”

This season won’t swing so quickly, however. “Torch Song” makes three subway stops in the dramatic life of Arnold Beckoff, a gay man looking for love, a family and his acerbic mother’s respect. This is not the full-length version, “Torch Song Trilogy,” that Fierstein sent to Broadway, but a trim, two-hour edition more in line with the film. 

It’s followed by “Nuts,” a high-intensity courtroom drama compared to “Witness for the Prosecution” in its layers of revelation about Claudia Draper’s violent, vulnerable life. There are actually funny moments in “Nuts,” but the audience won’t get a belly laugh until “Slow Food,” which deals in both character study and comedy.

“Slow Food” (2019) is a relatively new play, and is one of The Studio Players’ rare encores for a playwright; McCleod wrote “Things Being What They Are,” its 2016 summer season offering. It replaces “Lifespan of a Fact,” a play that was tentatively in the lineup. 

Barefoot in the Park” launched Neil Simon into America’s consciousness because of its film version starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. It’s a fully loaded blender of life in a New York walkup: two personality extremes in an idealistic marriage, a neighbor who has to access his garret through their bathroom window and the bride’s lonely mom subjected to her matchmaking. 

“All New People” has been out since 2011, but it’s a stew of current characters. There’s an angst-weighted Gen-X central protagonist who thinks he wants to end it all; a real estate saleswoman who believes in divine guidance and the power of a green card; a fire chief who deals in drugs on the side. An escort service sweetheart drops in, too, just to complete the chaos.

Studio Players actors Danielle Channell and Rosie Deleon  rehearse a scene

What’s different about this play is that it splices in short video interludes that give a sort of visual rap sheet on everyone. Both it and “Torch Song” are plays Lilly admits that he couldn’t do perhaps even five years ago.

“We wouldn’t have had the technology. We wouldn’t have had the audience,” he said during “Torch Song” auditions. “That’s changed. Now we have, I feel, our followers, our supporters, who come to every show that we do.”

Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.

The Studio Players ’21-22 season

What: Individual plays for The Studio Players’ 2021-22 season

Where: Joan Jenks Auditorium, Golden Gate Community Center, 4701 Golden Gate Parkway, Golden Gate

Tickets: $30

To buy: thestudioplayers.org or 239-398-9192


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