Charles Busch, whose unique style of storytelling has developed quite a following here, has opened a new bill of three pieces at Columbia Station in which he plays, among other roles, a 90-year-old homosexual Italian prince and a 12-year-old fat kid.
Two of the stories are convoluted soap operas that combine the best elements of B movies and a Harold Robbins novel; the third is Southern Gothic. Busch peoples his stories with numerous characters, and he plays them all, shifting voices, facial expressions and postures with uncanny facility.
"After You've Gone" involves a former B-movie queen, Anita Harlow, and her lover, Christopher McCry, who is charged with the murder of his father. Along the way we meet Ardella Williams, a once-successful blues singer; Chicklet O'Day, a lesbian who runs a haunted mansion at a seaside resort; Chicken Joey, boy prostitute; Lady Olivia, ne'e Olive Eberhart, who worked in the "wardrobe at Universal" and knows that Anita's real name is Ruth Hackett of Funkstown, Pa.
"Chile Pepper" is even more preposterous. The 17-year-old daughter of a failing record company executive is locked in a roomful of demo tapes and ordered to pick a hit song. Chile Pepper, a transvestite, appears and picks one, a device that allows Busch to run through a series of impressions of "Grammy award-winning" rock singers: Delilah Cross, Electric Pepperoni, and the punk star, Tommy Vomit, who sings: "You make me want to throw up/You tell me I should grow up."
"Escape from Camp Kitchiwamee" is a ghost story and, coming after the other two pieces, seems to go on too long, considering that we've already been introduced to more characters than one might encounter in an entire evening at a bus station.
Busch is inventive and imaginative. He has a tendency to slip too often into a drag queen mode, flicking his head and running his fingers through an imagined mane of dyed hair. The female characters are clearly his favorites, and are generally better developed than the males.
The stories are rather more sophisticated than the "Theatrical Party" he performed in his introductory engagement here last year, which used the simple device of a party to introduce a raft of characters and their relationships to each other. All three of the new pieces shift locale frequently, and unfold plots full of surprises and suspense. The plots are rather hackneyed but are given a new perspective since only one man is playing all the parts, without benefit of costume or makeup. The playing space, an adjunct of the Columbia Station bar, is marred by the sound of rock music next door.
"Charles Busch Works Alone Tonight," written and performed by Busch, directed by Kenneth Elliott and Ron Vigneau. At Columbia Station Tuesdays through Saturdays until April 30.