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In the mid-1970s, an aspiring young actor from New York, Charles Busch, came to Evanston to study at Northwestern, where he couldn't get cast in other people's plays. So he began writing his own. One, Sister Act, was a drag vehicle for himself and his friend Ed Taussig. "We put the play on as a midnight show in a slot where they usually showed cult movies," Busch writes on his Web site. "Earlier in the week, Ed and I gave our first interview to a young reporter from The Daily Northwestern. The day of the show, the campus paper came out with a lurid photo of Ed and I in our Hester and Esther drag with the headline 'Decadence Reigns at Midnight Madness.' Needless to say, we were sold out. I don't know if the play or the performance was any good but it was a watershed experience for me. It was my first time as drag star and playwright and it felt really good. I came away from the night with the sense that perhaps there might be a place for me in the theatre." Later, Busch—a devotee of gender-bending playwright Charles Ludlam and his Ridiculous Theatrical Company—performed at such Chicago venues as the Body Politic and the fabled punk disco La Mere Vipere.
Returning to New York, Busch carved out a career for himself as a major force in gay fringe theater by starring in his own off-off-Broadway shows. His Vampire Lesbians of Sodom debuted in 1984, the same year Ludlam's The Mystery of Irma Vep premiered. Now regarded as a camp classic, Vampire Lesbians was followed by such works as Gidget Goes Psychotic, Psycho Beach Party, Die, Mommie! Die, The Lady in Question, and the crossover Broadway hit The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, in which the heroine was played by a real woman—a major departure for Busch. But Busch has had his misfires too, most notably Boy George O'Dowd's autobiographical musical Taboo, a 2002 London hit whose 2003 Broadway version—produced by Rosie O'Donnell with a script heavily rewritten by Busch—bombed.
Busch takes the stage Monday as part of Victory Gardens's Fresh Squeezed series. Last seen here at a premiere screening of the documentary The Lady in Question Is Charles Busch, he'll be joined by actress Julie Halston, best known for her role as Bitsy Von Muffling on TV's Sex and the City. Halston, who began her career working with Busch in Vampire Lesbians, will team up with him for an evening of anecdotes, film clips, and scenes from his plays.
An Evening with Charles Busch & Julie Halston: Mon 12/7, 7:30 PM, Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln. 773-871-3000, victorygardens.org, $30 in advance, $35 at the door.