There’s a fine line between a drag queen and a tribute artist — at least according to the character played by Charles Busch in his latest Off-Broadway comedy, which is hardly one of the prolific performer-playwright’s best but will still appeal to his fans.
In “The Tribute Artist,” Busch attempts to bridge the gap between his parodies of legendary actresses and movie genres, which usually feature him in drag, and his more middlebrow, Neil Simon-style comedies, the most successful being “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.”
Busch does appear in drag in “The Tribute Artist” but it’s done under a “Tootsie” sort of premise. Busch plays a recently terminated female impersonator who schemes with a pal to impersonate his recently deceased landlady so that they can sell her Greenwich Village town house and take the profits.
In the style of a traditional farce, the odds of pulling off the scheme grow more impossible with every scene, as the landlord’s niece shows up expecting to live at the town house, followed by a criminal who figures out the plan and tries to get in on it.
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.
Nevertheless, Busch’s fans ought to enjoy it, especially since it still offers plenty of his flamboyant showmanship. Plus, he is joined by his longtime co-star Julie Halston, who literally is his partner in crime this time around.