What a Drag! Mae West's Pleasure Man Gets NYC Reading With Charles Busch March 17

News   What a Drag! Mae West's Pleasure Man Gets NYC Reading With Charles Busch March 17 Charles Busch, whose current drag performance in the comedy, Shanghai Moon, for Drama Dept., has a touch of Mae West in it, will star in a benefit staged reading of West's controversial 1928 play, The Pleasure Man, March 17.
Charles Busch in a scene from Shanghai Moon.
Charles Busch in a scene from Shanghai Moon.

Hourglass Group presents the first New York City revival performance of West's legendary play to benefit the company's fourth season of provocative new plays and The Actors' Fund's Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative.

Produced by the same company behind the revival of Mae West's Sex, the reading stars Busch as "The Bird of Paradise." Featured in the cast of 40 are David Drake, Cynthia Darlow, James Urbaniak, Alice Playten and Peter Jacobson, as well as drag actors known in New York.

The reading is 8 PM March 17 at the Culture Project @ 45 Bleecker Street and will be followed by a dessert reception with the cast.

According to production notes, "Set backstage in a third rate vaudeville house, The Pleasure Man is a comedy-melodrama about the exploits of a Lothario whose dalliances lead to his death. Along with acrobats, comedians and dancing girls, the play features a troupe of female impersonators. The original 1928 Broadway production ran for three performances, two of which were raided by the New York City vice squad. The police arrested the cast of nearly 60 (still in costume) on obscenity charges and West bailed the entire company out of prison both times. The show trial that followed resulted in a split jury and West was acquitted."

Directed by Elyse Singer (Sex, Red Frogs, Hundreds of Sisters), with music direction by composer Jeff Stock (Triumph of Love), the cast of The Pleasure Man includes performances by over 40 actors drawn from the Broadway, downtown, indie film and drag communities. Drag performers scheduled to appear are Flotilla deBarge, Sunrize Highway, Murray Hill, Brini Maxwell and Cashetta, the magician. The cast will also feature Hourglass associate director Nina Hellman (Sex, Red Frogs), Bruce Kronenberg (The Exonerated), Jeremy Shamos (Shakespeare Abridged) and Christopher Fitzgerald (Amour). Founded in 1998 by Elyse Singer, Carolyn Baeumler and Nina Hellman, Hourglass Group has fostered the work of new playwrights including Ruth Margraff, Brooke Berman and Chiori Miyagawa. In 1999, Hourglass produced the first New York revival of Mae West's 1926 play, Sex. Its most recent production, the world premiere of Ruth Margraff's Red Frogs at P.S. 122, was the cover story of the November 2002 issue of American Theatre magazine.

The benefit reading will raise funds for Hourglass Group's fourth season, which will include the Next Stage Festival of New Plays. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Actors' Fund's Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative, which addresses health issues that impact women in the entertainment industry.

Tickets are $50, which includes a post-show dessert reception with the cast. The Culture Project is located at 45 Bleecker Street at Lafayette St. For reservations or more information, call (212) 439-8122 or visit www.hourglassgroup.org.

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Actor Charles Busch is back in a girdle again after his stint as a Broadway playwright of The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, this time playing a tough tootsie in the parody of stereotype-rich films about opium, Chinese warlords and forbidden love.

Even before its Jan. 16 opening, Shanghai Moon announced an extension at The Greenwich House Theatre, where the Drama Dept. staging began previews Jan. 3. Performances now extend to March 9 (the original run to Feb. 9 was nearly sold out).

In Shanghai Moon Busch stars as Lady Sylvia Allington, the beautiful American-born wife of an aging British diplomat (House and Garden's Daniel Gerroll), who travels to Shanghai to persuade an infamous Chinese warlord to donate a priceless jade to the British Museum. Lady Sylvia, trapped in her loveless marriage, falls headlong into love with the notorious General Gong Fei (M. Butterfly's B.D. Wong), sparking off a mad, passionate affair which must end in murder. Marcy McGuigan plays sage counsel Dr. Wu and Sir Lionel, Sekiya Billman plays the romantic rival Mah Li, Becky Ann Baker (sounding as if she's channeling Glynis Johns) plays British Mrs. Carroll, a brothel owner who may be part Chinese. Gerroll also doubles as Pug Talbott, a Cockney sea captain, and Baker is also Sir Geoffrey.

Carl Andress, who helmed Busch's serious-minded Queen Amarantha, directs.

Busch told Playbill On-Line that after a period of experimenting with new projects, he got back into drag comedy as a kind of therapy.

"You're always trying to figure out who you are and what you do best," Busch said the day before his opening. "I keep trying to zero in on it. I have learned a lot in the past few years. From 1991 to 2001 it seemed liked I spent most of that decade experimenting with new things, different kinds of plays: I wrote a play, You Should Be So Lucky, where I played a male; a play called Queen Amarantha, which was a drag role but a serious role where I wasn't spoofing a genre; I did a cabaret act; I wrote a novel; I played Little Me; Genet's The Maids. Some of them were more successful than others, some were just flops and misguided, maybe. But you gotta try it."

Visit www.charlesbusch.com.