Richard and our friends David and John and I saw Charles Busch’s new play, *The Tribute Artist*, on Friday 3/14. Busch is an actor and playwright, he made his reputation doing decidedly downtown shows like *Vampire Lesbians of Sodom* and *Die, Mommie, Die!* His plays are almost always hilarious and almost always feature him as the leading lady.
The first play of his that I saw was *The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife* on Broadway, with Valerie Harper, Michelle Lee, and Tony Roberts. That was a frisky romp. His plays are always rather randy, in varying degrees. My favorite play of his is *The Divine Sister*, which the four of us saw a few years ago. It’s a mash-up of every movie you’ve ever seen that features a nun, with Busch as the Mother Superior (he said in an interview that it was a relief not to wear a girdle).
We read about his new play at 59 E 59th St, the company that did his recent play *Olive and the Bitter Herbs*. That play wasn’t so hot, but we have to see everything he does. *The Tribute Artist* is the story of a drag entertainer (a “tribute artist”) who does Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, etc, in some of the smaller rooms in Vegas. He and his best friend are visiting a friend of his, an elderly fashion designer. The designer says that she thinks she’ll be dying soon, and hasn’t made any plans for her estate. Of course she dies in the next scene, and of course the Busch character and her friend decide that he should impersonate the old lady to hold onto her dazzling Greenwich Village townhouse.
Sounds like a great premise for a play, no? Busch was working real hard out there, ditto his second-to-none second banana, the uproariously funny Julie Halston. The other four actors (the old lady, the old lady’s niece, the niece’s transgender son, and the old lady’s former boyfriend) all did a good job, but the play itself didn’t completely deliver. It was fun, we’re glad we saw it, there were many funny lines and it was an enjoyable night at the theater - - but it wasn’t anywhere near the quality of his best work.