The Third Story, the new play written by and starring Charles Busch, opens tomorrow in New York. Writer Paul Rudnick once opined: “One does not become a Charles Busch fan, one is enslaved.”
Charles is the author and star of an impressive library of hit plays such as Psycho Beach Party, Red Scare on Sunset and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, which is one of the longest running plays in Off-Broadway history. His play The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife brought him mainstream success, running for 777 performances on Broadway and winning the Outer Circle Critics John Gassner Award and a Tony nomination for Best Play. His successes go on and on.
Having portrayed a number of Busch heroines I had been a fan for years, but it wasn’t until a perfect night in April 2007 that I became enslaved. I was having a high old time taking lovers, killing husbands and maiming children as Angela Arden in Uptown Players’ production of Die, Mommie, Die! My cast-peeps and I were having a ball with the show. Chad Peterson (with killer abs and comic timing) and sex kitten Leslie Patrick played my spoiled, scheming children. Hilarious Nancy Sherrard was the snooping housekeeper Bootsey and dashing Cameron McElyea was the well-hung lothario who’d stolen my heart. And then there was Jim Johnson’s hoot-iful performance as my cruel, comb-over’d husband Sol. Don’t worry, a poisoned suppository got him in the end.
Charles’ movie version of the show had come out the year before and audiences were really responding to our take on it. Having seen too many rotten regional productions of his work, he rarely attends them anymore and, indeed, had politely declined our early invitation to see the Dallas version. However, kismet kicked in and his movie A Very Serious Person (he starred in it and made his film directorial debut) was added to the USA Film Festival lineup—during our run. He was to attend the screening and subsequently agreed to come see our show. Okay, it had been fine when it was just the idea of him seeing me in his role. But now it was really going to happen? Gulp. I high-tailed it back to my script to make sure I was line-for-line and hunkered down for some serious toilet time. (TMI? Well, nerves do that to me and at least my weight was great.)
The big night arrived and, well, it was terrific. You know how some nights things just go right? The show was tight, the audience howled at our every line, and we sailed through what was probably our best show of the run. We were thrilled. Then we got to meet Charles. What can I say? He was fabulous. He was kind, he was warm, he was funny, he was smart. And he was generous—eventually going out of his way to promote our production publicly and admitting to me and director Andi Allen that he was going to steal some of our bits for his upcoming NY production of the play. Okay, that’s some pretty heady stuff. And though people tried to slap the grins off our faces, it wasn't happening.
Uptown held a reception for us, and Charles (along with companion and frequent collaborator, the darling Carl Andress) joined us for what turned into several hours of swapping stories, gabbing gossip and dishing dirt. Charles held court and we were in his thrall. Without going all gushy-mushy…it was simply one of the finest nights I’ve ever had in a theater. Uptown producers Craig Lynch and Jeff Rane agreed that it had been one of the most special evenings at their theater.
I was in touch with Charles this weekend to wish him bonne chance on his opening tomorrow and, as usual, he was thoughtful and gracious, even asking how Uptown’s production of Legends! had turned out. It seems he is to star in March in a one-night-only special event performance of the play alongside Whoopi Goldberg and Lypsinka. How appropriate. Because in my eyes Charles Busch is, and always will be, a true legend.