Each act focuses on a different phase in Arnold's life. In the first, Arnold meets Ed, who is uncomfortable with his bisexuality. In the second, one year later, Arnold meets Alan, and the two settle down into a blissful existence that includes plans to adopt a child, until tragedy strikes. In the third, several years later, Arnold is a single father raising gay teenager David. Arnold is forced to deal with his mother's intolerance and disrespect when she visits from Florida.
The first act derives its name ( International Stud ) from an actual gay bar of the same name at 117 Perry Street in Greenwich Village in the 1960s and 1970s. The bar had a backroom where men engaged in anonymous sex. The backroom plays a central role in the act.
The award-winning and popular work broke new ground in the theatre: "At the height of the post-Stonewall clone era, Harvey challenged both gay and straight audiences to champion an effeminate gay man's longings for love and family."