Carrying the Torch

Brandon Uranowitz delivers the relevance and emotion in Studio Theatre's noteworthy new staging of 1982's ''Torch Song Trilogy''

Torch Song Trilogy: Brandon Uranowitz

Torch Song Trilogy: Brandon Uranowitz

(Photo by Todd Franson)

MW: Back then marriage equality wasn’t even –

URANOWITZ: And not just marriage equality. Gay relationships, gay love, period. There’s this great interview that Harvey did with Barbara Walters, when [the show] premiered on Broadway. She’s talking about gay love, and homosexual love, versus heterosexual love, and talking about it like it’s this completely foreign, novel, alien idea.

MW: And I’m guessing back then the audience might have even sympathized a little more with the mother than they do today.

URANOWITZ: Yeah, probably. Exactly. Today she seems a little more malicious and villainous, but even back then I think they would have probably had a similar mindset [as she] about the whole thing. People’s minds have changed, but the fight is still strong and I think that’s why this play speaks to people still.

MW: It’s also interesting to think about the audience. The night I saw it, the crowd was probably half straight. And in particular there’s the gay-bar backroom scene, which is quite hysterical — and the women behind me were laughing hard — but it’s also a bit startling to see the goings-on there so openly simulated onstage. In the midst of laughing I was also partly recoiling, thinking: These straight women aren’t supposed to know about this, let alone find it funny.

URANOWITZ: I know! I know, it’s jarring. But it was a reality. Harvey presents it in a comedic sort of tone, and through a comedic lens I think to make it a little more palatable for people. But, you know, it’s where a lot of men went to satisfy their urges and their desires that they were not allowed to have. And they had to do that in a dark backroom where it was a kept secret, and no one could see your face. It was completely anonymous. People think that that’s dirty, and irresponsible. And at some point it did become irresponsible because of the disease, but these men are struggling in the outside world to live. Arnold says it in the play that he wants to live a normal life, out in the daylight where everybody can see him. But he goes into the backroom because that’s where people would go.

MW: And there is a distinction made between love and sex, and the hunt for a relationship — and whether that has to be built on monogamy. The play notably touches on that with the ”straight” couple, Ed and Laurel.

URANOWITZ: Like Arnold says in the play, monogamy is a much easier system to keep track of. You can be there, and you can live in it, and you can be comfortable and safe and stable in it, but then once you start opening those doors, which Ed and Laurel seem so dead-set on opening, it allows for a lot of the unknown. And that can play into the relationship in negative, detrimental ways, whether you want to admit it or not.

MW: Speaking of relationships: The Wikipedia entry on you says you’re married to actor Molly Hager.

URANOWITZ: Oh, my God, I know. [Laughs.] Okay, here’s the story behind that. This is the first time it’s actually sort of affected my professional life.

When Facebook first came out, it was for a handful of colleges. And one of my best friends at NYU was Molly Hager, and she still is one of my closest, closest friends. And Facebook was just this weird kind of fun website that people would play with when we were at college. It didn’t have all the features that it has now. It was pretty basic. And then they randomly started rolling out these different features, and one of them was the relationship status, and there was a married option. We thought that that was hilarious, because it was just for young college kids. Like, who the hell is married and in a relationship on Facebook? Which seems so silly now because, I mean, most people have a Facebook now.

So we decided to get married on Facebook. This was like in 2005. Then Facebook blew up, and we vowed never to change it. I have no idea who created my Wikipedia page. Molly has no idea who created hers. But somehow it made it on there because of this thing on Facebook. And we just think it’s hilarious, but I guess maybe it’s probably more responsible to change it at this point.

But, no, I was never married to Molly Hager. Nope. Never.

MW: Are you in a relationship these days?

URANOWITZ: I am. To an actor, Zach, that I met doing my first Broadway show, Baby, It’s You. He was my understudy. That was in 2011. So it’s been almost two-and-a-half years. He’s in Portland doing Fiddler on the Roof, but, hopefully, if we extend he’ll be able to come and see this show.

MW: It must present special challenges, being in a relationship with a fellow actor.

URANOWITZ: Oh, my God. Especially ’cause it’s not just dating a fellow actor – it’s dating an actor and we go out for the same parts. Like he auditioned for this, you know what I mean? It’s sort of something that comes up all the time. It’s a really true test of character and keeps your selfishness and selflessness in check. Becoming an actor — like any job should be, really — it’s kind of a dream you have growing up as a kid, and you have all these fantasies and aspirations of all this stuff growing up. You’re not growing up, necessarily, with your significant other [in mind]. So once this person comes into your life, it becomes about prioritizing your dreams and this person that you love unconditionally, and trying to put all of those things that you’d fantasize about in your childhood aside for the sake of a healthy, positive relationship. It’s a struggle. It’s a struggle, but we’re somehow making it work.

MW: When you two compete for a part and you win, such as this one, do you owe him something? I mean, do you find a way to make it up to him?

URANOWITZ: [Laughs.] No, no, because what we’ve realized over the past couple years is that it can’t be a competition. I’ll get a part, he’ll get a part, I’ll get a part, he’ll get a part. It’s always just going to be alternating. That’s how it’s been historically for us. The comeuppance, I guess, if you want to call it that, is getting another part somewhere down the road.

MW: Have you actually worked together since that first time in Baby, It’s You? Would you like to?

URANOWITZ: No, we have not. Yeah! I think that would be fun. It would be very interesting. I’d be curious to see what exactly we would do together.

MW: Growing up, did you have your sights set on becoming a stage actor?

URANOWITZ: Yeah, well, I grew up in New Jersey, right outside of New York City. I was in extracurricular acting/theater classes since I was 6.

Then I started – because we were so close to New York – I started acting professionally. I did a lot of stuff as a kid between the ages of 9 and 13. And I was in the world premiere of Ragtime in Toronto. My mom and my sister moved with me to Toronto for eight months. Growing up, stage acting was what I always wanted to do. It was always sort of musical-theater focused. Then I sort of lost interest in that in high school. In college I fell in love with Shakespeare, and would love to do more of that. There’s also some really, really wonderful, amazing writing happening in the TV world right now. I think it’d be fun to do that as well. I’d love to be able to break into that. There’s some really incredible writing going on there, so I think that would be fun. But I don’t know what the future holds. I’m just going to ride the wave and see where it takes me.

MW: Obviously, you had a supportive family not just in terms of being gay, but in terms of your acting and theater aspirations. Is your sister also an actor?

URANOWITZ: She’s also an actor. She’s four years younger. She just graduated. She also went to NYU. Yeah, my parents were always very supportive. That was an incredible thing that they did. My parents are still married and still together. My dad stayed in New Jersey to work and make money while my mom moved up to Canada with me and my sister so that I could do the show. They lived apart from each other for a long time. They’re just amazing.

MW: Have they seen you in Torch Song Trilogy?

URANOWITZ: They came to opening night. It was very nerve-wracking for all of us. It was also very emotional. It was a great night.

MW: One thing we didn’t really touch on is the whole drag aspect of the character and the play. Early on, Arnold says drag queens are a dying breed, essentially asserting that once gays have more equality, drag queens will wither away. And yet, drag queens are probably more popular now than ever.

URANOWITZ: Than ever, I know, I know! It’s fascinating. I think it’s kind of wonderful, though, that the gay community sort of held on to this campy, over-the-top self-expression, and didn’t let it die. I think, at the time, to Harvey — this is probably not a very PC thing to say — but there was something a little minstrelsy about drag: painted face and this caricature of a gay person to make people laugh. I think he probably thought that once [gays] were accepted that drag would probably not be. It’s like Arnold says, like the blacks did to Amos, Andy and Aunt Jemima. It’s these characters that came out of a struggle, but were sort of performed and done to entertain the naysayers. It’s fascinating to me that drag has become more of an art form and a performance art, and I think that’s kind of wonderful. I don’t think it’s necessarily about fighting to be accepted, although that is obviously a very real and very present struggle for any gay person, and any transgendered person and any drag queen. But at this point it’s more about the art of it and the craft of it.

You know, with RuPaul’s Drag Race and everything, some of these queens are kind of brilliant. They’re really good at what they do.

MW: Do you think you’ll do drag again?

URANOWITZ: I don’t know. It’s not something I’ve ever really thought about. It’s really fun. But, you know, it’s also kind of scary. Doing drag seems to me like doing standup comedy. It’s like one of the scariest things to me. Like putting yourself out there and hoping that people respond and laugh and enjoy it. But, also, the other thing is, most drag queens have a gimmick. They have a thing. I have no idea what mine would be. But it would be something fun to explore.

I’m also going to have all of this makeup once the show is over, so I might as well use it, right?

Torch Song Trilogy runs to Oct. 13 at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. Call 202-332-3300 or visit studiotheatre.org.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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