Last night, I went with a small gaggle of folks to see Charles Busch in his newest revival "Die, Mommy, Die!" at the New World Stages. The play is an homage to the old Lana Turner, Joan Crawford movies in which everyone is shot, wronged, abused and so forth. The husband, for example, is poked with a poison-laced suppository, and dies....or does he? There are lots of dramatic, melo-moments--a knowing look is exchanged between Mr. Busch and the audience, or he slips into this strange mush-mouthed voice, and we suddenly get the joke. Or we're let in on the joke.
I rather enjoyed it. Others had mixed reviews--of the playwriting, of the supporting actors--but everyone agreed that Mr. Busch's performance is, in a word: flawless. It is also odd, heartbreaking, hilarious, disturbing, peculiar, and brilliant.
I'm amazed at Busch's journey as an artist. Much like John Waters, his only competition is his early work. No one really does what he does--play elaborately fake, disarmingly lovable, high camp, iconic women time-warped out of the golden age of cinema....but wait, is it the golden age? Isn't that the 30's? What about the 60s? And the 50s?....you can see that what Mr. Busch does is essentially his own. His style has progressed into this bizarre, hilarious take on those women. It is as if he has been all alone, playing with his wigs and dresses in mummy's attic for so long that he's created a singular lexicon: The World of Charles Busch. His style has been revised over and over, in a closed way, and thus it presents a kind of fast-forward take on the evolution of an entire language.
You can see some--but not enough--Charles Busch on YouTube. There is a wonderfully intriguing and touching documentary about his life and work, "The Lady in Question...is Charles Busch," which you can get from Netflix; the trailer (of sorts) you can watch here. There is also, of course, the feature film version of "Die, Mommy, Die!", and you can watch that trailer here.