By: Sandi Durell
It doesn’t matter what the title really is, does it? A rose by any other name . . . a cross-dressing, comedic illusionist genius playwright is still the one and only Charles Busch. So when Primary Stages at 59e59 Theaters asked Mr. Busch to write this play, he wasn’t intending to also act in it, but when you think about ‘The Tribute Artist’ – who else could?
The one-of-a-kind Charles Busch is well known for his pop culture off Broadway hoots, “Psycho Beach Party,” “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom,” “Die Mommie Die” and his Broadway hit “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.”
With his long time best buddy Julie Halston (who plays Rita, a former alcoholic lesbian, 1-1/2 star rated worst real estate agent), the story unfolds as Busch, who plays Jimmy, a now out of work Las Vegas ‘tribute artist’ (impersonator, drag queen) conjure up a plan to get rich.
Seems that Jimmy has been crashing at a $12 million townhouse in Greenwich Village (beautifully designed by Anna Louizos), where his friend the heart-hearted widow Adriana (a very elegantly played but earthy Cynthia Harris), once a fashion designer, now lives after her much older husband has passed on. But Adriana isn’t looking towards a long life ahead. In fact, she dies soon after her one opening scene where she’s giving Rita the dig about her looks and clothing. What are Jimmy and Rita to do? What any red-blooded scheming NY Real Estate agent and tribute artist friend would do! Hide the body and figure out how to sell the townhouse as if Adriana was still alive.
But here’s the glitch. There’s a niece from the Midwest who reads about the sale. She’s the only living relative of Adriana’s deceased husband who is supposed to actually inherit the townhouse once Adriana is gone. A real complication – the niece Christina (a suspicious, scrunch-faced nutcase played brilliantly by Mary Bacon) appears with her transgender daughter/son, Rachel-Oliver (Keira Keeley), ready to claim her inheritance. However, she is met by Jimmy who is now playing Adriana, who can’t quite keep himself from spewing old movie lines reminiscent of Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn.
When Rachel-Oliver finds out that Adriana (via Jimmy) once had a young lover named Rodney (a well played Jonathan Walker), she/he finds him on Facebook and invites Rodney to join in the fray. Well, all hell breaks loose as the shady character Rodney (who deals in selling body parts), wants a piece of the action having uncovered the secret as Jimmy comes on to him.
This may sound a little over the top, but what else could one expect – it’s Charles Busch – filled with clever fast-paced dialogue, sexual innuendos, twists and turns that keep you laughing in this outrageous comedy as you settle into the two acts (2 hrs. 10 minutes). The fabulous costumes are designed by Gregory Gale with wigs by Katherine Carr. Carl Andress has a wonderful time directing this larger than life cast of characters.
How does it all turn out? Go find out!
*Photos: James Leynse
“The Tribute Artist” continues thru March 16th. 212 279-4200