Busch and Turner Take
"I make up stories;
it's what I do." This line comes out of the mouth of
Kathleen Turner as Peg, the middle-aged screenwriter she plays
in the new Charles Busch play
The Third Story
. The statement could have come from Busch himself, as the
playwright once again pays homage to classic guts-to-glory
is a mash-up of sci-fi B movies, mob flicks, and 1930s
screwball comedies, loosely influenced by everything from
to Grimm's fairy tales, with a hint of
All About Eve
bitchery for good measure.
The complicated plot
centers on Turner's Peg and her son Drew (played by the winsome
Jonathan Walker) as she tries to convince him to help her write
a screenplay. From there, it all gets very meta as the cast
enacts the scenes that the mother and son conjure up. Here's
where it gets tricky, as actors each portray multiple roles, in
various time periods and "realities." Turner does
double duty as Dr. Rutenspitz, while Walker morphs into sexy
gangster Steve Bartlett. Busch portrays mob diva Queenie
Bartlett, Bartlett's double, and witch/hag Baba Yaba. A
talented bunch rounds out the cast, including Scott Parkinson
as the freakish Zygote, Sarah Rafferty as gun moll Verna, and
Jennifer Van Dyck, who gives a hilarious turn as the frosty Dr.
Busch, author of many plays including Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and the Tony Award-nominated The Tale of the Allergist's Wife , clearly relishes the glamorous Hollywood of yore, and while paying homage to its constructs he lovingly adds a twisted spin to it all.
Much like Die Mommie Die! a previous Busch work, The Third Story is highly stylized; characters toss out retro-isms like "dame," "slugged," and "sitting in clover." The show is rife with double entendres: Afraid of getting busted, one character declares, "Any minute someone out there is gonna finger me!"
As Queenie, Busch does his high-camp, Bette Davis-ish, lockjawed broad shtick, and very amusingly. Turner as well is a force to be reckoned with. With commanding stage presence and great comic delivery ("The last thing I mean is to be melodramatic."), she vamps her way through the show, somehow imbuing her Peg with just the right level of vulnerability. And her voice is as smoky, sexy, and unforgettable as ever.
Special mention must be made of the wardrobe. Costume designer Gregory Gale has done a magnificent job capturing the time periods referenced in the show, and Busch's ensembles in particular are grand and dazzling. David Weiner's lighting design is also impressive, with a flickering campfire and helicopter searchlights doing much to open up the scope of the show.
The Third Story is fun, but imperfect. It can be a little hard to follow all of the backstabbing and backstory, and the multiple plotlines create a lot of exposition over heavy stretches of time. Toward the end the show sags under the weight of tying up so many loose ends.
Overall, Story is a fun romp through Busch's love affair with old-school glamour and goofy humor.