Busch and Turner Take on TheThird Story

By Mike Diamond

Originally published on Advocate.com February 18 2009 12:00 AM ET

"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
Hollywood.
Story

is a mash-up of sci-fi B movies, mob flicks, and 1930s
screwball comedies, loosely influenced by everything from
Dostoevsky's novella
The Double

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.
Constance Hudson.

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.

Kathleen Turner and Jonathan Walker in The Third Story x390 (JOAN MARCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM

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.