Review Roundup: THE TRIBUTE ARTIST
Primary Stages, Daryl Roth, and Ted Snowdonin association with Jamie deRoy present The Tribute Artist, a new world premiere comedy written by and starring Tony-nominee Charles Busch (The Divine Sister, The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, Olive and the Bitter Herbs). Now playing through March 16 atPrimary Stages at 59E59 Theaters, the show opened last night, February 9.
Directed by Busch's long-time collaborator Carl Andress (The Divine Sister, The Third Story), the cast will also feature Mary Bacon (Harrison, TX...; Giant), Cynthia Harris (Lost in Yonkers, "Mad About You"), Julie Halston (Olive and the Bitter Herbs, Anything Goes) Keira Keeley (Angels in America, The Glass Menagerie), and Jonathan Walker (The Assembled Parties, The Divine Sister). For tickets, visit www.primarystages.org, or call (212) 840-9705 for additional information.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, New York Times: As playwright and star, Mr. Busch has been uncommonly generous in allowing all the characters scene-stealing monologues of outrage and revelation. As entertaining as these moments are, they also feed the play's subtle and subversive blurring of the boundaries between fact and fiction, male and female, past and present, friendship and rivalry and, most daringly, what we think of as moral and immoral behavior.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: The swarms of fans who are drawn, moth-like, to the incandescent flame that is Charles Buschwill no doubt fly to "The Tribute Artist." This frantic farce unites the scribe/performer with his bff Julie Halston in a not-entirely-fanciful plot about the insane, illegal and frequently criminal measures that desperate people will stoop to, just to get their hands on a nice piece of Manhattan real estate. But unlike "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife," a break-out mainstream hit for the scribe in 2000, this playful comedy is strictly for the in crowd.
Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Charles Busch's kooky but convoluted new play "The Tribute Artist" is about desperation. Every character fears the other shoe is about to drop, especially Jimmy (Busch), a celebrity tribute artist (aka female impersonator, please not drag queen). He's up to his wig caps in trouble. Snooty recluse Adriana (Cynthia Harris), a sometime friend who owns the fab Village townhouse Jimmy crashes in, is letting the place go.
Frank Scheck, NY Post: "The Tribute Artist" has many amusing moments, even if it does drag at times. Its funniest scene has Jimmy delivering a series of comic references to old movies that Rita's forced to explain to those too young to have seen them. Under the expert direction by longtime Busch collaborator Carl Andress, the ensemble shines. Gorgeously costumed and wigged, Busch is touchingly sweet, and Halston's perfectly timed readings are hilarious. A minor effort, to be sure. But even a lesser Busch is more.
Jesse Green, Vulture: The problem, pace Sontag, isn't seriousness but indulgence. Like Jimmy, Busch falls back on the old stuff when he's stuck. (He'll do anything for a gag: Bette Davis is imagined working at a health-food restaurant just to get to "Pita, Pita, Pita!") And that sort of machination pales in comparison with the elaborate and bald setup for the plot; the first scene does little but provide a checklist of answers to questions that will arise later. The result is somehow both overstuffed and underfed. And, as indifferently directed by Busch's longtime collaborator Carl Andress, underfunny. (Only Busch and Halston have the requisite style.) Jimmy does get a big laugh with his amazed realization that "the more honest you are, the more people believe you." Unfortunately, The Tribute Artist doesn't really test the premise.
Matt Windman, amNY: Busch manages to show a more sensitive and exposed side, particularly whenever his character lets down his guard and drops the drag act. But for the most part, the play gets dragged down by predictable mechanics, a slow pace and rambling dialogue. There are also a few very gross references to body parts.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: While Busch's impersonations are pretty great, better yet are the play's long digressions in which his characters relate sordid stories from their past. These memories run the gamut, from living off a dead friend's credit cards to working in the black market of human body parts sold to hospitals. Yes, "The Tribute Artist" is more a long-running miniseries crammed into two-plus hours than it is a sitcom.
Fern Siegel, Huffington Post: Camp can sometimes possess a harsh underpinning; Busch mines subtler terrain. Ever the tribute artist, he delivers a spirited, more humane rendition. His humor, which steals liberally from movie queens and classic cinema scenes, remains. But like all Busch parodies, there are issues to explore. A skilled actor, his faux Adriana navigates the blurry lines between illusion and reality and discovers the value of honest emotion.
Photo Credit: James Leynse