When Charles Busch is good he is very, very good, but when he’s bad – yes I know it should read – he’s even better. But in this case he is unfortunately not. I am still convalescing over my disappointment with Mr. Busch’s latest effort – “The Third Story”. It’s complicated, convoluted, too long and not up to his high comic standards. Both in his writing and in his performance. Do I dare say it’s boring?
I last saw Mr. Busch in Die Mommie Die! And it was terrific. He was terrific. Carl Andress did an absolutely marvelous job directing the comedy. It was hysterically funny. Mr. Andress has also directed “The Third Story” – and I wonder what’s happened or not happened as the case may be.
Perhaps it’s the theory put forth by Mr. Busch that the first two ideas for stories are not as good as “The Third Story” – the third being more real and honest. Then why do we have three simultaneous stories that make up “The Third Story”? Why not concentrate on the best and forego the first two?
Perhaps it’s that Mr. Busch has relinquished his role as “the star” to the wonderful Kathleen Turner who plays a 1940’s screenwriter down on her heels, pretty much washed up in Hollywood (even with an Oscar), drinking heavily and has the House Un-American honchos after her while attempting to get her son (a writer also – a very capable Jonathan Walker who doubles as Queenie Bartlett’s son Steve) to help her write a screenplay for the aforementioned Queenie – another down on her Joan Crawford f*** me pumps actress friend in the guise of Mr. Busch. Kathleen Turner is excellent at keeping the drama afloat while the other crazy tales whirl about her. Doubling as the Germanic Doctor Rutenspitz, Ms. Turner gets involved, almost against her will, in the twisted plots.
Then there is a sci-fi story with frigid Dr. Constance Hudson (an incredible Jennifer Van Dyck) who has come up with a formula for identical replication of humans. Of course the formula gets stolen. She is assisted by Scott Parkinson – Zygote – a lab test tube baby experiment gone awry. Mr. Busch certainly is not lacking in the imagination department.
Then we have a “fairy tale” with a Russian Princess and a witch (Mr. Busch) who is going to make her into two people so that she can have the Prince. All three tales meet up somewhere in the middle of Act I and you might be wise to buy a navigational device to help steer you through to the ending. Clue: Twins are very important.
Perhaps it’s that Mr. Busch doesn’t get to wear the flashiest outfits. Sarah Rafferty playing Verna and Princess Vasalisa sports such finery in this production. Especially a wide brimmed black feathered hat that is to die for! Costumes by Gregory Gale are knockouts. I wish the same could be said for the comedy. It’s sporadic at best. We get to see Mr. Busch as the movie star Queenie Bartlett do her double takes and double entendres and as the Witch Baba Yaga in fashionable rags but he seems a bit frayed around the edges. He’s playing with fire when he writes a line like – “Nothing good can come of this.”
At the Lucille Lortel Theatre www.mcctheater.org