Toronto
2 min

Mr Clean

Takes the gloves off

BURLY DERVISH. Playwright Harvey Fierstein is still writing, reading the riot act and doin' the math on politics today. Credit: Xtra files

Harvey Fierstein is breathless with exertion when he calls. It’s chore day at his home; the beds need a-changin’, the floors need a-washin’, the pets need a-groomin’. Impressively, Fierstein juggles all three tasks effortlessly, while smoking a perpetual cigarette and sustaining witty conversation.



This burly dervish with a stalling chainsaw for a voice is the latest guest in the Proud Lives series, speaking Fri, Nov 12 at Convocation Hall.



I asked the Tony Award-winning playwright about his decade-long absence from big time theatre and how he’s faring, carving out a lucrative little niche as a swish sidekick in such boffo box-office fare as Mrs Doubtfire and Independence Day.



XTRA: What’s the gist of your Proud Lives talk?



HARVEY FIERSTEIN: I guess my theme is how powerful we are as everyday citizens with disposable incomes. When we spend money, that act is as important as casting a vote. In a democracy, money is power. Look at [Republican presidential candidate] George W Bush, he’s wreaking havoc on the political system, simply on the power of his money.



XTRA: You’ve been most visible, of late, as a character actor in big budget blockbusters. Are you still writing?



HF: I’ve just written a segment of a film called Common Ground for HBO, along with Paula Vogel and Terrence McNally. I’m writing something for Showtime called Big Sissy In Little Italy. But theatre – it’s sooo much work, I’m leery of committing myself. I spent nine years as Arnold in Torch Song. Arnold, Arnold, Arnold. And then the film version…. I’m scared to jump in again.



XTRA: What happened to Daddy’s Girls, your sitcom with Dudley Moore? It’s so sad that he’s brain damaged now.



HF: It got the axe. It was awful, awful. Dudley’s a genius, but they had these 20-year-olds writing in American colloquialism for him, and he didn’t seem to care that the scripts were crap. Half the time, Dudley didn’t even know what he was saying. I’d say ‘Dudley, do you understand the line you just read?’ And he’d say, ‘Not at all, and I don’t care.’



XTRA: Part of the enduring appeal of Torch Song Trilogy is its emphasis, in its own way, on family values. Has your perspective on love changed since you wrote it?



HF: My perspective is always changing. I’m a triple Gemini. And I’m not sure that anybody knows my perspective on relationships. I can say that my last relationship nearly killed me, it was so horrible. He was a liar, a user, everything that is awful. I’ve been dating casually for two years. I still hold to the belief that all-all-relationships are valuable.



XTRA: Bumpkins like me perceive you as glamorous, the quintessential New Yorker. Is the notion of “home” important to you?



HF: Well, I live in Connecticut now, so obviously not. No, actually, I’m a total nester. Partly because I’m always travelling – Paris, Berlin, Australia – as soon as I leave, I’m looking homeward.



XTRA: A glimpse into the future, Mr Proud Life?



HF: Maybe another sitcom. Maybe theatre. But then again, it’s so hard to be collaborative at this point. As much as people may share a vision, it’s not your vision. And it’s ridiculous to expect another creative person to share your own vision. The politics of getting a show on – as well as remaining a political person – takes so much energy. There are people who can do it. Sue Sarandon can be progressive, do good films and raise a beautiful family, but she’s a rare case. I’m less rare. But, so be it!



Harvey Fierstein.

$19.50-$39.50. 7:30pm.

Fri, Nov 12.

Convocation Hall.

31 King’s College Circle.

(416) 872-1212.