Busch, Charles

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BUSCH, CHARLES (1954– ), U.S. actor and playwright. New York City–born, Busch grew up in the Westchester suburbs but was infatuated with the theater from an early age. He attended Northwestern University, where, he said, he realized he was an offbeat type, and the only way he was going to have a career was to create roles for himself. He started writing material to perform solo, learned the basics of style and exposition, and booked himself at gay bars and small theaters around the country.

In the early 1980s he and a friend assembled an informal company of performers who put on campy shows at a New York nightclub. With Busch performing in women's clothing, their play, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, won a cult following and moved to the Off Broadway Provincetown Playhouse, where it ran for five years. In 1986 he created Psycho Beach Party, a spoof of surf movies. He wrote The Lady in Question in 1989, ostensibly a takeoff on World War ii movies, as a critique of the New Age philosophy of enlightened selfishness. Another play, Red Scare on Sunset, in 1991, was a comic melodrama set during the McCarthy era with a heroine who spouted a politically incorrect ideology. "As I began creating these vehicles for myself," he said, "I gradually, without intending to, became a writer."

In the 1990s he experimented with several literary forms and wrote a novel, Whores of Lost Atlantis, a nightclub act, a musical revue, a play in which he played a male role (You Should Be So Lucky in 1995), and the book for an unsuccessful musical. Around that time, Busch wrote a one-man show in which he played several female characters, one of whom was a New York housewife seeking self-expression. "This was one of the few times I'd looked at my own suburban Jewish background and the people I grew up with," he said. He conceived of putting these characters in a cryptic Harold *Pinter-like play, and The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, with Linda *Lavin, was born. The major character, Busch said, was a composite of his octogenarian Aunt Belle and his late Aunt Lillian, who raised him after his mother died when he was seven. "It's ironic that the career I had all these years was based on my sexuality and performing in drag, which was a little too weird for a woman of her generation to embrace," he said. "And yet it was only because she made me so confident about myself that I was able to have this very odd career." The play ran for 777 performances on Broadway and received a Tony nomination for best play. Busch wrote and starred in the film versions of his plays Psycho Beach Party and Die Mommie Die, the latter winning him the Best Performance Award at the Sundance Film Festival. For two seasons he appeared on television as the cross-dressing inmate Nat (Natalie) Ginzburg in the hbo prison drama Oz.

In 2003 he received a special Drama Desk Award for career achievement as both performer and playwright.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]