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'Olive' not a 'drag' for playwright

Olive and the Bitter Herbs

Olive and the Bitter Herbs Photo Credit: Handout

New York City born comic playwright/performer Charles Busch frequently appears in his own shows, often in drag.

While his latest show, the Off-Broadway production of "Olive and the Bitter Herbs," has some choice roles - both male and female - Busch declined a part. He chose to have the leading female role played by an actual woman in this story about a has-been actress who sees a ghost in her mirror and ends up hosting a chaotic Passover Seder.

Why don't you have a role yourself in "Olive and the Bitter Herbs"?
My specialty as an actor is playing rather stylized female roles that celebrate the conventions of classic Hollywood star acting. The leading female role in this play is a very realistically etched character. I could offer nothing to it; needs to be a biologically female actor. And she only wears very dowdy house dresses. Nope - not for me.

What inspired you to write the play?
A few years ago, I attended a very small memorial service for an elderly character actress. Her equally elderly former understudy got up to speak and spent the next 10 minutes describing how mean and impossible the deceased was. It was outrageous and gave me the idea for this play.

Is it a farce?
I'm not sure what the precise definition of farce is, but I always think of it as a play with lots of going in and out of doors and physical comedy. If so, this ain't it. This is a more realistic comedy of life in contemporary Manhattan.

What's it like to write a play about a Passover Seder?
I wasn't raised with any religious background, so I had to resort to using Google for the details of this Passover Seder scene. I kept getting some detail wrong. I'm sure there's still some inaccuracy.

Do you believe in ghosts?
I'd like to say I don't believe in ghosts, because if you [do] believe in them, then you have to believe in some sort of afterlife and it gets very complicated. But there have been a few times when I could have sworn I saw something unexplained.


If you go: "Olive and the Bitter Herbs" is playing at 59E59. 59 E. 59th St., 212-279-4200, primarystages.org.

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