Harvey Forbes Fierstein is a Jewish-American gay playwright, performer, and activist, who was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 6, 1954 (“Harvey Fierstein Biography”). He was raised by the strict Jewish parents. He is the youngest child in the family. His father was a handkerchief, manufacturer and his mother was a housewife (“Harvey Fierstein Biography”). He studied in the city’s public school. Harvey Fierstein started writing while in high school but, as he admitted himself, he did not do well. However, he performed drag quite well. Being a 270-pound teenager, Fierstein succeeded in impersonating Ethel Merman, who was the brassy-voiced musical comedy star from Broadway (“Harvey Fierstein Biography”). These performances brought him fame. He became a hit in some less known clubs of New York by transforming himself into such characters as Bertha Venation, Virginia Hamm, and Kitty Litter (“Harvey Fierstein Biography”).
In 1971, Fierstein got his first break by taking part in Pork, which was one of pop icon Andy Warhol’s theatre productions (“Harvey Fierstein Biography”). Sometime after, Fierstein started writing his own plays. In 1972, his first play entitled “International Stud” debuted at La Mama (“Harvey Fierstein Biography”). At the same time, he entered the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. In 1973, Harvey Fierstein earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. After graduating, he returned to writing and performing his plays (“Harvey Fierstein Biography”).
Some time later, he wrote a trilogy of plays, which were performed together as Torch Song Trilogy on Broadway in 1982. The author starred in the trilogy that opened up to the audience a little-known world of homosexual families and their battles for self-acceptance and love (“Harvey Fierstein Biography”). In 1983, Harvey Fierstein got two Tony Awards, one for Best Play and one for Best Actor in a Play for his trilogy (“Harvey Fierstein Biography”). During the following several years, Harvey performed in thirty films, starred on some television shows, and participated in many shows (“Harvey Fierstein Biography”).
For many years, Harvey Fierstein has been standing for gays’ rights, and speaking out for AIDS causes (“Harvey Fierstein Biography”). All his performances were aimed to show the other side of homosexual relationships to the public and change the stereotypes about them. In 1987, Harvey wrote another trilogy of plays Safe Sex, which included Manny and Jake, Safe Sex, and On Tidy Endings. These three one-act plays were performed in a sequence; however, each play featured different characters. Even though the play had little success on Broadway, the author managed to salvage the last play On Tidy Endings (Nelson 154). The play became a well-regarded television movie with Harvey Fierstein and Stockard Channing starring (Nelson 154). Even though the largest part of the plot took place in one room and was based on one long conversation, the film brought to the author an Award for Cable Excellence for both dramatic and writing program (Nelson 154).
It is a story about love and death. It shows very dramatic emotions, caused by the death of a character named Collin. The story is shown through two different prisms. The author describes feelings of two different people, who were in love with Collin at some point of their lives. The first person is Marion. She was his ex-wife for sixteen years. They had a child by the name Jim. The author presents her as a beautiful, warm and natural woman towards surrounding people.
The second character is Arthur. He was Collin’s lover for the last three years of Collin’s life. In the play On Tidy Endings, Harvey perfectly demonstrates the clash of two different worlds: Marion’s, who is a heterosexual woman, and Arthur’s, who is a gay male. They were brought together by Collin’s death from AIDS. She came to the apartment, where her ex-husband lived with his lover, to get Arthur to sign some documents and share some things that belonged to Collin. She took her son with her; however, the boy did not want to stay with his mom in the apartment and went to play with a neighbor’s son.
The conflict between Marion and Arthur begins as soon as she demonstrates her intolerance towards homosexuality. She confronts Arthur with a reasonable question of how she can explain to her son that his dad left them to sleep with another man ( “On Tidy Endings”). As they carry on sorting out Collin’s affairs, they continue to clash over some subjects. Marion asked for Collin’s high school yearbooks because nobody needed them, but Arthur answered with sarcasm that he was interested only in his gay period (“On Tidy Endings”).
As their argumentative conversation goes on, they discover that each of them has a different vision of happiness. For her, to love somebody is enough to make that person happy. She states “You count your blessings and you settle” (“On Tidy Endings”). For him, love alone is not enough. However, Marion does not take homosexual relationships seriously. She is confirmed that gays do not know what love is. Thus, they cannot love. Later, she confesses to Arthur that after Collin left her and their four years old son, she had never given up hope that one day he would get over it and come back home (“On Tidy Endings”). It shows her pain of losing Collin. Meantime, he tries to show her the legitimacy of his love for and relationship with Collin. Arthur replies her that she lost him a long time ago when they got divorced. He claims that he has earned his place in Collin’s life. It is his moment of grief, and everything left by Collin was for him, not for her.
Later in drama, the two of them start gaining a sense of understanding of each other. Arthur shares with her his memories of the time spent with Collin. He shows his little souvenirs they got from different places while they were traveling. Eventually, he tells Marion about the way he was looking after Collin and confesses, that only because of his, Arthur’s care, Collin lived that long. He describes the very last moments of Collin’s life and his death. By the end of their meeting, Marion has changed her vision of Collin’s homosexual relationship completely. She adjusted to the reality of her formal husband’s lover and even allowed him to get acquainted with her son. She accepted Arthur and his rights as the person her husband loved most and left her and their son for.
It is clear that Harvey, as a liberated and openly gay character, wanted to exalt the gay experience by writing a play that would investigate and dramatize this formerly taboo topic. In the play On Tidy Endings, he used the technique of symbolism. Marion is a symbol that represents heterosexual part of the society, who is not tolerant towards homosexual relationships. She seems to be the most masculine and unforgiving of people, while Arthur, who represents homosexual part of the society, has what used to be called a feminine sensitivity to characters and situations. The author tried to show the homosexual relationship to the viewers from a sentimental perspective. He wanted to persuade the public that gays are capable of having long-term relationships, which are based on love. Harvey used Arthur’s care for Collin as an argument. He created the image of a perfect gay lover, who is loyal, caring, and loving towards his dying partner.
The main purpose of Harvey’s play is to demonstrate to the audience that gays can have the long lasting relationships; they are able to love and deserve to be loved not less than heterosexual couples are. It is fair enough. However, the author demonstrated in his work only one side of homosexual relationships. He created an illusion of stability in homosexual relationships that he, as a gay, was longing for. Nevertheless, according to the statistics of Australia, people, who are engaged in the homosexual relationship, are less likely to live with a partner. In 2007, twenty-eight percent of people, who declared that they were homosexual, were living with a partner compared to the fifty-eight percent of heterosexual couples (“Same-Sex Couples”). Gabriel Rotello, who is a well-known American musician, Emmy-nominated filmmaker and writer, being a gay himself states in his book Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men that there are very high rates of sexual promiscuity among the gay population, and the percentage of long relationships is low (Rotello 39-41). Harvey in his interview to The New York Times confesses of being promiscuous by taking part in a group sex in a back-room bar (Collins). Therefore, Marion cannot be blamed for not taking seriously Collin’s homosexual relationship with Arthur.
Frank Rich, a famous art critic, called the play Safe Sex “a lumpy trilogy of one-act plays about the AIDS crisis” presented with “a soppy, overblown staging to match the more treacly and self-indulgent excesses of the text” (“Stage: Harvey Fierstein’s “Safe Sex”). Harvey Fierstein as a playwright and actor is looking for adoration from an audience. In On Tidy Endings, he promotes the love for himself and without any doubt, for all the humanity.
He, as a writer, created in his play an illusion of an unrealistic world, where everybody lived in harmony and mutual understanding with each other. A wife, abandoned and infected with AIDS by her deceiving husband, who was left alone with a child, is still in love with her husband who had left her to live with a man. Moreover, she eventually got on well with her husband’s lover. She even decided to give him half of the money from selling a flat. Harvey tries to give a feeling to the audience that the main characters in the play are the most generous, loving, and sensitive people one could ever hope to find. Nevertheless, there is an underlined irony in this play. Arthur, who did not have a job, had to rely on his lover’s ex-wife, who by all means, had all rights not to help him at all.
Harvey makes a strong accent in the play on the fact that Arthur was a gay, and that was the reason why he was mistreated by Marion. The question is whether Marion’s attitude towards his second wife would be much different from the attitude towards Arthur in case Collin left family for another woman. Perhaps no, because she spent more years living with Collin, and she had a son from him. That is why, from the psychological point of view, her behavior is understandable. She thinks that she has more rights over Collin than his lover does, and it does not matter whether it is male or female. However, by the end of On Tidy Endings the author shows that there are no tidy endings anymore, but people can deal humanely with other people if they are honest with each other and avoid role-playing.
Besides the problem of the clash of heterosexual and homosexual parts of society, Harvey Fierstein raises another problem of the modern society. This problem is AIDS. He shows that this problem applies not only to those who are involved in homosexual relationships but to everybody. He promotes the safe sex in On Tidy Endings and demonstrates that it is one of the ways of reducing its transmission. In his interview for The New York Times, he said ”This is a show about living in the era of AIDS, and it is something all people, not just gays, will have to deal with… I’m talking about humanity. Safe sex is increasingly part of the culture, part of the norm” (Collins). The author also wanted to support those who had been infected already by showing them that they were not alone in this world (Collins).
In conclusion, it is possible to say that Harvey Fierstein’s drama can be considered a new wave in the expression of his own visions and experiences. It is expressive in its description of experience in a way that deforms reality in order to present psychological truths. Despite the soppy, overblown staging of his play, he has achieved his main goal that makes his work worthy. He delivered the message to the public that homosexuality by itself does not make people bad. Gays are also a part of the modern society, and just like heterosexual people, they have rights and obligations to live according to the law and behavior norms of a country. Homosexual people have to be treated the same way as heterosexual people are. People are different independently of their sexual orientation; some of them are good, and some are not. People’s behaviors and characters do not depend on their sexual preferences, but rather on their inner qualities and moral principles.