Features

The Lady In Question

Photo: David Rogers

Drag legend extraordinaire Charles Busch is making a return engagement to the Bay Street Theater MainStage in a revival of his much acclaimed satire The Lady in Question, which begins previews on August 14 and will run through September 2. Mr. Busch was last seen here during the summer of 2004 in a revival of Auntie Mame on the MainStage, when he played another legend Mame Dennis, made famous by yet another legend, the film and theater star Rosalind Russell. Christopher Ashley, who helmed the current Broadway hit Xanadu, will direct Lady. He also directed the outstanding Broadway productions of All Shook Up and the revival of The Rocky Horror Picture Show earning a Tony nomination in the process.

Photo: David Rogers

Drag legend extraordinaire Charles Busch is making a return engagement to the Bay Street Theater MainStage in a revival of his much acclaimed satire The Lady in Question, which begins previews on August 14 and will run through September 2. Mr. Busch was last seen here during the summer of 2004 in a revival of Auntie Mame on the MainStage, when he played another legend Mame Dennis, made famous by yet another legend, the film and theater star Rosalind Russell. Christopher Ashley, who helmed the current Broadway hit Xanadu, will direct Lady. He also directed the outstanding Broadway productions of All Shook Up and the revival of The Rocky Horror Picture Show earning a Tony nomination in the process.

For the uninitiated the flamboyant Mr. Busch is an actor, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, director and gay icon, who may be under the radar to most of the general population, but nonetheless has a cult following of devotees. He is the author and star of besides The Lady in Question, Red Scare on Sunset, and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. He wrote and starred in the film versions of his plays, Psycho Beach Party and Die Mommie Die, winning a best performance award for the latter at the Sundance Film Festival. In 2003 he received a special Drama Desk Award for career achievement. The star made his directorial debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2006 winning an honorable mention and is the subject of a documentary film The Lady in Question is Charles Busch.

The playwright, however, is probably best known for two vastly different works. The camp classic Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, which brought him prominence and is one of the longest running plays in Off-Broadway history earned him his cult status. The play began in the East Village at the Limbo Lounge in 1984 and subsequently moved to Off-Broadway running for five years. Adoring fans formed long lines at the theatre box office and would often greet his every on stage move with screams and shrieks of pure delight.

Seventeen plays later in the year 2000 Busch, the playwright, moved mainstream with the Broadway debut of The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, which ran for 777 performances garnering him along with rave reviews a Tony nomination for best play. Linda Lavin starred in the role that might have been played by Busch himself and the moment became a major turning point in his career. Ben Brantley in the New York Times called the play "Uproarious." The playwright would later write the book for Rosie O’Donnell’s Broadway production of Taboo starring Boy George, a marvelous script that was unfortunately undermined by the star’s limitations.

Sybil Christopher had been speaking with Charles about bringing The Lady in Question to Bay Street for several years, but after the success of Auntie Mame the prospect may have seemed timely, and when she called suggesting they do his play this season Mr. Bush was thrilled immediately agreeing with only two requirements. He wanted Julie Halston, who was a founding member of Busch’s company, Theatre-in-limbo, to revive her original role. He also insisted he wanted Kathy Carr, who has been with him forever, to do his wigs. Otherwise Bay Street could have complete control and when I sat down with Mr. Busch in his Greenwich Village duplex just a day before rehearsals began, he hadn’t even discussed the costumes, but he knew all his lines. He said, "It was surprising how easily they came back after 18 years," and that he was excited to begin working with the excellent company."

The anti-Nazi melodrama that spoofs Hollywood epics from the 1940s and 1950s is a sly thriller that Kyle Renick first produced at the WPA in 1988 and was subsequently moved Off Broadway to the Orpheum Theater in July of the following year. The play is actually a multilayered joke kept buoyant with daring comic style that owes a debt of gratitude to the genius of Charles Ludlam and is one of 23 plays written by the multi talented Busch.

The story is a suspenseful tale of Gertrude Garnet, a glamorous diva and self-obsessed concert pianist on tour in Bavaria. Her tremendous ego is challenged when a handsome American enlists her help in rescuing his mother from a Nazi prison. Writing for the New York Times Frank Rich said "The Lady in Question is hilarious company."

Book Hampton is underwriting sponsor of the "Pay What You Can" performances at Bay Street. There are at least 50 tickets reserved for the first preview performance that can be purchased on the day of performance in person at the Bay Street Theatre Box Office from 11 am – 6 pm with a limit of two tickets per person. Regular tickets are $50 – $65, but on August 14 "Pay What You Can."

By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan's Papers