Backstage in a New York drag club Arnold Beckoff transforms into his stage persona Virginia Hamm and reflects on life and love. It’s 1971. (Are there any plays out there reflecting 21st-century LGBT life?) This two-hander was first performed by its writer Harvey Fierstein who also starred in the 1988 movie Torch Song Trilogy in which International Stud was part one.
CJ de Mooi is Arnold, no longer the world-weary Brooklynite of the original but a nervy refugee from somewhere below Mason Dixon. CJ is best known as a panellist in TV quiz show Eggheads. The International Stud (the after-work bar with backroom action) is where Arnold meets Ed (an impressive Reed Stokes) and they start a doomed affair. Who knows what the Grindr generation makes of all this tragicomic handwringing although the message ‘you’ll never get respect if you don’t be yourself’ is as relevant as ever.
Unfortunately CJ doesn’t convince. He’s not a natural comedian nor (despite fishnets and falsies) a convincing knock-‘em-dead drag artiste. There is little of the warmth and generosity of Fierstein’s wrenchingly emotional tour d’ horizon conveyed here. Flawlessly memorising the lines is not enough. One thing’s for sure. You’ll never again watch Eggheads in quite the same way.