Third play in trilogy is being staged

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Le Chat Noir will open its production of Widows and Children First, the third play in the Torch Song Trilogy , on Friday. Richard Justice, who has played the central role of Arnold Beckoff in each of the Torch Song shows over three seasons, said he is approaching his final performances in Arnold's shoes with mixed emotions.

"It's definitely bittersweet," he said. "Yes, we've completed the trilogy, and yes, we will survive three years as a theater. This play is a testament to the staying power of Le Chat. But this play, this character, has been a lot of fun to do, and I will miss that."

The third play deals with issues of mourning, family and acceptance of both. Stylistically different from the first two Torch Song pieces, it follows the situational-comedy model of verbal humor and pathos to progress the plot.

Mr. Justice said the accessible nature of Widows made it an ideal centerpiece for the film version of the play, released in 1988. Debi Ballas, who plays Arnold's mother, said that though she understands how a filmmaker might be attracted to this part of the story, she has not seen the film.

"I think that was a help," she said. "It means I don't worry. I don't worry what Anne Bancroft did with his role. It's better this way."

Ms. Ballas said working with a clean slate allows her to approach the play as written.

"Everything you need is in this writing," Mr. Justice said. "There's never any risk of falling into sitcom rhythms. In another script, that might not be so easy. Here, there is none of that sense of banter. It really is about conversation."

What it does not offer, Mr. Justice said, is easy answers. While more pat at the conclusion than the first two plays, there's still a sense of ambiguity and discord.

"That's what we like," said Doug Joiner, who plays Ed Reiss in the play. "We don't do ta-da theater."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.


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