Charles Busch is an androgynous-looking, rubber-faced young man who's obviously been mainlining old movies for years. A Theatrical Party takes its plot down from a very dusty shelf. The occasion is a soiree given by famous actor Anton Troy, who's preparing to embark on a season of Shakespeare but is still seeking a leading lady; the guests include waspish dramatic critic Vyvyan Pernod, mystery writer Sir Basil Basewater (author of Adela, Miracle Woman of Sorrento), and several out-of-work actresses, who, needless to say, make their bids for Anton's attention. If the play were bitchier, you could say it was All About Eve meets The Real Inspector Hound, but it's actually more old-fashioned -- say, Ronald Firbank dreaming up an episode of Upstairs, Downstairs.

Nonetheless, Busch accomplishes an impressive coup de theatre. Although there's never anything more in front of you than a table, a chair and a single rose in a vase, when A Theatrical Party is over you could swear you've surveyed every inch of Anton's pads and met all his guests. But in fact you've seen only Charles Busch. This is a trick Ruth Draper and Cornelia Otis Skinner were famous for and that Lily Tomlin started to get into before she traded stand-up for the movies.

There are more extreme examples of this sort of solo turn that go further to explore the implications of the actor as schizophrenic; the personalities that pop out of, say, Jeff Weiss onstage or Charles Ludlam in his ventriloguist act are in their own way as scary and pathological as the demons Anne Sexton lived with. Busch, however, aspires to the more genteel raconteur tradition. His multiple role-playing isn't satire so much as showmanship. In A Theatrical Party he's like a boy in grandmother's attic acting out his fondest fantasy of being leading lady, whether it's rank amateur ingenue Lily Marbanks (Katharine Hepburn as Eve Harrington: "'Twas a small part but I gave it my all!"), Parisian showgirl Solange Gabriel (dusting her chin with the back of her hand and squealing "How you say?"), or aging grande dame Beatrice Fortescu ("I won't lie to you. I'm desperate, Anton. Give me the part!") He does this without the "Watch me!" narcissism of so many solo performers, peopling his world with characters more interesting than himself, and inviting us in to play. And although he succeeds in keeping a large assortment of characters vivid and distinct, to do so he occasionally lapses into mere caricature -- which just means Busch may be a virtuoso someday, but he's not one yet.

Soho News, May 1980