Charles Busch: Broad Appeal

Charles Busch talks Liza and Judy at the Palace and takes Kathleen Turner camping off-Broadway in The Third Story.



 Sarah Rafferty and Charles Busch in a scene from MCC Theater’s production of The Third Story XLARGE (JOAN MARCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM

The Times piece quoted you as saying that you’re often up until 3 or 4 in the morning following performances.
All my life that’s been a problem. I never liked going to bed. Even as a young kid, I’d set the alarm clock to 4 in the morning because a Norma Shearer movie would be on. And I know this is going to make me sound a little loony, but the curse of my imagination is that I have the wildest dream life. Sometimes I’m almost afraid to go to sleep at night. I don’t have nightmares, but every dream I have is like an epic, full-length movie — quadruple features. Sometimes I wake up more exhausted than before I went to sleep.

I was also surprised by your admission of being a reality-television addict.
It’s an obsession. Is there a 12-step program? I really need one. Though I like to convince myself that I’m only addicted to high-end reality TV. I’ve never missed a single episode of any season of Survivor. I really like Project Runway, Top Chef, Top Design, American Idol, Dancing With the Stars… I went so far as to attend a taping of Dancing With the Stars. And for some reason, I keep running into all the winners of my favorite shows on the street, so I accost them. I never know if they know who I am or if they just think I’m a kook.

Doing Dancing With the Stars seems like a logical next step for you.
[Laughs] I don’t know. When I have to dance in a show I’m like one of those old star ladies who doesn’t move while the chorus boys do all the work. In fact, I think my next play will be something where I can just wear a kaftan and sit on a divan. I’m so tired of learning blocking.

Explain your choice to star in The Third Story after not having taken on the female leads in your plays Our Leading Lady and The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.
Not everything I write is in the same style. The Third Story suits my genre-parody style, so I wrote that for myself. The characters aren’t supposed to be real women; they’re comments on star-acting. Allergist’s Wife, for example, was much more naturalistic, and having me play one of those roles would’ve made it seem like it was in the same style of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. Although sometimes I wonder if I’m being hypocritical, because I had to really fight hard to get the rights to play Auntie Mame. The Lawrence and Lee estate didn’t ever want to allow a man to play that part because they didn’t want it to turn into a camp piece. I had to write letters saying that I was going to play it very much like Roz Russell, and that I wasn’t making fun of it. At the same time, I would receive letters from theater companies who wanted to do Allergist’s Wife and cast a guy in drag in one of the roles, and I said, “Absolutely not. You can’t play Allergist’s Wife like you’re doing Psycho Beach Party."

What happened to plans of a film version of Allergist’s Wife?
A wonderful producer optioned it and paid me a lot of money to write the screenplay, and we both felt that the screenplay was an improvement on the play. Then he had a terrible time getting a production company to make a movie about middle-aged Jews in New York. One studio head said, “Can you make the Michelle Lee character 20 years old?” So it’s sitting in limbo. At one point we sent the script to Barbra Streisand, and there was a brief flurry of e-mails about her doing it at HBO. Then some emissary basically said that if Streisand was going to return to the screen, it should be in a role of import. Of course, then she did Meet the Fockers. But who knows what Streisand really wanted or if she really even looked at it.

Tags: Theater