Thursday, February 4, 2010

QNY Interview: Charles Busch is The Divine Sister

By Father Tony

I answered the phone seeing a New York number that I didn’t recognize.


“Is this Mr. Ottaviano?”

“No. Sorry.”

“Oh. Good. This is Charles Busch. I just wanted to be sure that you aren’t my stalker. I never know when he’ll pop up.”

That was the start of my phone interview with Mr. Busch who is starring in his new play  “The Divine Sister” opening on February 6th at Theater for the New City.

(More, plus theater, dates and ticket info, after the break)

We immediately jumped into a serious discussion of the wimple and its merits and challenges. Worn correctly, it can throw the face into high relief, accenting the cheekbones  and arching the neck. (Kate Hepburn in Lion In Winter). Worn incorrectly, it can add chins and jowls galore. (Peggy Wood in The Sound of Music).  Charles Busch reports that the wimple is actually a rather comforting garment but certainly no match for a good wig. Costuming dispatched (and I suppose that's an indication of his or my priorities), I asked about the genesis of the new play.

“About every seven years or so, I have to clear myself of any kind of professional agenda and do something just for fun.  Something more like my early East Village stuff. That is what The Divine Sister is.”

“I assume you are Catholic and have some first hand experience of nuns? Perhaps Catholic schooling?”

“Oh no! I was Jewish but not raised in any particular religion. You know I was brought up in New York City by an aunt who adopted me at the age of thirteen. Very Auntie Mame. I’ve always been fascinated by religious movies and by the Jesus of the movies. And I’ve always loved movies about nuns. “

“Which movie nun do you love the best?”

“Well, the voice I use in The Divine Sister is borrowed  from Rosalind Russell in The Trouble With Angels.  It’s throaty and difficult and that’s why I’m hoarse from rehearsal and probably will be for the next few weeks .” 

I asked Charles Busch if he regretted the exposure he got when the New York Times profiled his Greenwich Village residence in photographic detail.

“Not at all. In fact, not long after that article, I was shopping for furniture in Atlanta. I was in a stuffy rather pricey shop where I found a delightful chair. A snooty salesman was giving me a lot of attitude while I tried to imagine the chair in my bedroom. He was giving me that slightly irritated, dismissive and impatient thing that a shop girl does to keep a shopper in his place. Finally, I said ‘To be sure it will fit, let’s get on the computer for a moment.’ When I brought up the New York Times spread with a photo of the exact corner of the bedroom in question, he suddenly changed his tune.”

When I asked Charles Busch about his audience, wondering if younger folks won’t understand his movie references in The Divine Sister, he seemed genuinely confident that the youngsters will find him. “Many young people who don’t know me from my plays recognize me from my mainstream movies and some of them are well versed in the history of movies. I don’t think it’s a problem.”

Charles Busch then shared with me a story about getting an MRI with the assistance of a young Latino twink nurse who recognized him just as he was swallowed up by the machine. I’m saving that for dinner party usage or you may be able to pry it out of me for the price of a drink.

Charles Busch is as delightful in conversation as he is on stage. I can’t imagine being in New York and not going to see The Divine Sister. You might even get to meet the stalking Mr. Ottaviano.


  1. Love Charles Busch and love him even more after I read how he answered when he called you. Brilliant.
    I'm looking forward to catching the show. Thanks for profiling him and his new work.

  2. I haven't heard anyone use the word "wimple" in years. Wimples must have been wonderful during the winter. Wimples must have also been not-so-nice in the sweltering heat of a NJ summer...Just my observation, having attended Catholic school from Kindergarten through High School...