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Busch, Charles (b. 1954)  
page: 1  2  

After Vampire Lesbians, Busch wrote Psycho Beach Party, in which he played a Gidget-like heroine with libidinous alter-egos. This success was followed by The Lady in Question, in which he played the title role, a burlesque-piano-player-turned-concert-pianist who stands up to the Nazis.

Busch's next noteworthy play was Red Scare on Sunset (1991), in which he starred as a 1950s actress surrounded by communists, who must name names as her moral duty. All three of these plays are heavily influenced by Busch's love of old cinema--especially actresses such as Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Susan Hayward.

The framing of Theatre-in-Limbo productions highlighted the dynamics of camp. The performers presented the conceit that theirs was an old-fashioned theater company---similar to those that comprised the popular French theater of the late nineteenth century. In this company, Busch was "the leading lady, a Sarah Bernhardt of Avenue C." The effect for the audience, writes Busch, is that they were watching "Charles Busch playing an aging actress playing" a role in that evening's play. According to Richard Niles (building on the work of Elin Diamond), this endless presentation of artifice creates "historicized" performances: because audiences are presented with performances marked as performances, they are better able to question the evolving relationship of gender and sexuality to culture.

Since Theatre-in-Limbo broke up in 1991, Busch has worked in numerous films, has written new scripts for old musicals, and has created a solo show, Flipping My Wig (1996)---an evening of songs and short pieces in which he creates a variety of Hollywood-like heroines. In 2006, his play Our Leading Lady was produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club. In the same year, he made his debut as a film director with A Very Serious Person.

His greatest impact in the New York theater world, however, has come from The Tale of the Allergist's Wife. This effort is unlike Busch's earlier work in that he does not appear in the play. Its popularity causes even Busch himself to get defensive. Responding to comments about his new status as "mainstream," Busch writes, "I always thought I was mainstream."

This ambivalence about Busch is felt more widely within theater circles. Although his later work has served to bring him greater attention in the wider theater world, many aficionados of queer theater believe that his work is most important when Busch is starring as the diva.

Busch is the subject of the 2005 documentary The Lady in Question Is Charles Busch directed by John Catania and Charles Ignacio. He lives in New York with his longtime partner, writer Eric Myers.

David J. Eshelman

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Busch, Charles. Charles Busch: The Official Website. (2007):

_____. Four Plays. Garden City, N. Y.: Fireside Theatre, 1989.

_____. The Tale of the Allergist's Wife and Other Plays. New York: Grove, 2001.

"The Charles Busch Picture Pages." (2007):

Keehnen, Owen. "The Sweetest Taboo: An Interview with Charles Busch." (2003):

Niles, Richard. "Wigs, Laughter, and Subversion: Charles Busch and Strategies of Drag Performance." The Drag Queen Anthology. Steven P. Schacht and Lisa Underwood, eds. New York: Harrington Park, 2004. 35-53.

Shewey, Don. "A Droll Dramatist Who Is Also A Diva Moves Up a Notch." New York Times (October 29, 2000):


    Citation Information
    Author: Eshelman, David J.  
    Entry Title: Busch, Charles  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2007  
    Date Last Updated April 28, 2009  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2007 glbtq, Inc.  


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