Charles Busch drag comedy parodies leading roles from silver screen legends

Edward Carignan may not have set out to create a Charles Busch repertory company in Columbus, but the popularity of the playwright's campy comedies has proven resonant with local audiences.

Busch — an actor, drag artist and playwright — has become known for spoofing film genres and other movie tropes. Among his plays produced here through Columbus Immersive Theatre (CIT) and Short North Stage are “Die, Mommie, Die!” which sends up '60s-era “hag horror” films; “Psycho Beach Party,” a play on surf films, and, now, “Cleopatra,” in which Busch pulls few punches in parodying film portrayals by Hollywood leading ladies Claudette Colbert, Elizabeth Taylor and Vivien Leigh.

“It's high drama and high comedy,” director Carignan said. “They're raunchy and sexual and campy and I love directing them. These plays just seem to be a hit with our audiences.”

While CIT might not actually be a Busch repertory ensemble, Carignan said having actors who are familiar with his style makes a difference. “You develop a sort of shorthand with the cast as a director,” he said, adding that it's not just familiarity but the quality of actors in Columbus from which to draw that makes his job enjoyable.

In another typical Busch treatment, the title character in “Cleopatra” is performed in drag. Nick Hardin played his first such role last summer in “Psycho Beach Party.”

“You kind of do have a little bag of tricks, and I think the way that Charles Busch writes, he encourages it a little bit,” Hardin said. “As an actor, you immerse yourself in any role. And this role calls for some playing around with my voice, from dropping real low to pulling out a high-pitched scream.

“You play the character as serious, because the more serious you are in these outrageous situations, the more funny it becomes. Your reaction in that indignation and outrageous moment just adds to the humor.”

“Nick and I have worked together lots of times, [and] he has a good grasp on how Busch writes,” Carignan said. “He's fantastic and has great comedic technique.”