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MidSumma Festival

Lead role a ‘brilliantly written character’

The play centres on drag performer Arnold Beckoff as he navigates his life in his quest for genuine understanding and acceptance.

Josh Reuben plays Arnold Beckoff in Torch Song. Photo: Phoebe Taylor
Josh Reuben plays Arnold Beckoff in Torch Song. Photo: Phoebe Taylor

Torch Song, based on American Jewish playwright Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy, is playing in Melbourne as part of the Midsumma Festival which celebrates LGBTQIA+ artists and culture.

The play centres on drag performer Arnold Beckoff as he navigates his life in his quest for genuine understanding and acceptance. When the Torch Song Trilogy was first released in the late 1970s it was considered groundbreaking for challenging gay stereotypes and societal norms as well as for addressing issues that concerned LGBTQIA+ communities.

Directed by Cal Robinson-Taylor and Phoebe Taylor, it stars Jewish actor and singer Josh Reuben as Beckoff.

Reuben feels the part of Beckoff was written for him, telling The AJN, “Arnold is not a stereotype of his identity markers, gay and Jewish, rather, his personality, sense of self, and aspirations, feel like an organic representation of the interplay of this intersection of identities, which, I believe, would be intensely relatable to many of us who sit in that wonderful (and sometimes confusing) confluence of multiple cultural pulls. It has been an absolute pleasure to play this brilliantly written character, who reminds me to express myself unapologetically and lean into my eccentricities!”

Asked about Torch Song’s relevance today, Reuben said, “Although great strides have been taken in the representation of a range of LGBTQIA+ experiences, and in the reduction of issues faced by those communities since the ’80s, we all still grapple with questions of our identity and acceptance in wider society, especially as hurtful stereotypes persist in the zeitgeist. There is still a long way to go in unpicking the othering of historically marginalised communities.

“In Torch Song, the mantle for authentic representation is set high. It is as relevant as it was when it first appeared, as Arnold’s advocacy for his rights and his desire to live authentically despite external pressures provide hope and courage to those who face similar societal and familial expectations.”

When not on the stage, Reuben works as a primary school Yiddish teacher at Sholem Aleichem College. He has performed in several works with the Kadimah Yiddish Theatre and is a member of Yiddish choir Mir Kumen On.

Regarding the revival of Yiddish culture taking place, Reuben said, “It has been incredible seeing the ever-broadening reach of Yiddish in the wider cultural consciousness, both here and internationally – there are fabulous creative energies working in Yiddish in every sphere.”

He added, “We must acknowledge too the protectors of the flame who have continually fostered and fuelled the Yiddish culture across generations, who helped build the platform for what is happening now. I am endlessly inspired by the members of the community, both past and present, who have forged the links of the goldene keyt (golden chain) of Yiddish language and culture here in Melbourne.”

Torch Song, presented by Taylor Made Productions and Midsumma Festival, is currently playing at Chapel off Chapel until February 10.

Tickets: midsumma.org.au/whats-on/events/torch-song

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