Carl Andress (foreground). Charles Busch in a promotional photo for "Ibsen's Ghosts" in the background. Source: EDGE composite image

EDGE Interview: Director Carl Andress – Working with Charles Busch, 25 Years and Counting

Frank J. Avella READ TIME: 11 MIN.

For more than 25 years, the theatrical (and celluloid) collaboration of legendary drag actor Charles Busch and director-producer Carl Andress has thrived and flourished. Andress has staged the world premieres of a plethora of Busch comedies including "The Confession of Lily Dare," "The Tribute Artist," "The Divine Sister" and "The Third Story" with Kathleen Turner.

Andress and Busch also co-wrote and co-directed the indie feature film, "The Sixth Reel" in 2021 and Andress co-wrote the screenplay, with Busch, for "A Very Serious Person" in 2006.

Watch the trailer to "The Sixth Reel."

Busch's latest stage farce, "Ibsen's Ghost: An Irresponsible Biographical Fantasy," had its world premiere at the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey and is currently playing off-Broadway at 59E59, presented by Primary Stages, through April 14, 2024.

The play stars Busch as Henrik Ibsen's widow, Susannah, who discovers that a former protégée, Hanna Solberg (Jennifer Van Dyck) is trying to sell a scandalous diary that exposes the celebrated playwright's misdeeds and claims she was the inspiration for Nora in "A Doll's House." The nerve! Susannah enlists the aid of a sexy sailor, Wolf (Thomas Gibson), to destroy the diary. The work also features great comic turns by Tony-winner Judy Kaye as Suzanne's stepmom and Jen Cody as Susannah's maid, Garda, who steals her scenes in a manner that must be witnessed.

Andress directs with his usual swiftly-paced style and flair. When he isn't presenting a new Busch play, Andress is planning the summer theatre schedule at the Sharon Playhouse in Sharon, Connecticut where he is Artistic Director. This season he will be directing "The Prom." For more info:

EDGE had a chat with Andress about "Ibsen's Ghosts" and his almost 3-decade collaboration with Busch.

Jennifer Van Dyck and Charles Busch in 'Ibsen's Ghost,' presented by Primary Stages
Source: James Leynse

EDGE: Carl, tell me about the genesis and development of this piece?

Carl Andress: Charles and I had done our play, "The Confession of Lily Dare" at Theater for the New City in 2018... Our friends at Primary Stages came to see it and said, can we do this one? And we were like, we'd love to because we'd love to keep developing it. So that is the show that we went into rehearsal with in 2019, and then opened in 2020. And our closing date was March 5, 2020. We closed, loaded out the theater, and everything shut down. It was just insane. During the course of all those early months, we did several Zoom readings and Charles thought: 'Well, that might be my swan song for the theater. It was such a wonderful experience. Just perfect. Maybe I should retire from the stage. And we'll just make movies.' And during COVID, we made a movie called "The Sixth Reel," which we co-wrote and co-directed...

So there's a certain point where the movie is done, and you go, "wow, okay, what's next? "And so then, Charles said, "Well, I think I have another play in me." I replied, "Oh, I thought you were retiring." And he said, "I don't have enough hobbies to retire". So, we were finished with a movie, he was basically finished with his memoir, and so he started wanting to come up with a new idea.

He'd been reading about Ibsen because he loves Ibsen's plays so much. And he said, I've always had this dream of wanting to play an Ibsen heroine, but I don't think that's ever really going to happen. And I said, well, couldn't you write your own play where you just celebrated the themes and certain special moments from Ibsen's various plays? And he thought, "Well, that's an interesting idea...I do have this this idea about taking some characters who are more or less footnotes in the story of Ibsen." That's what intrigued him and so he started imagining what it would be like if he were to play Ibsen's widow.

A scene from 'Ibsen's Ghost,' presented by Primary Stages
Source: James Leynse

EDGE: I think the play has something serious to say about the women in the lives of these great men that fall by the wayside.

Carl Andress: Absolutely. And who (is) the inspiration. Charles, as a writer, has always been celebrating women and their contribution in life and in their stories. So, it just makes perfect sense for that to be what Charles picks up on... That's always been at the forefront of his art.

EDGE: You and Charles have been working together for well over two decades now?

Carl Andress: Yeah. We did our first play in 1997. We met in '95, but we started our first real project together in '97.

EDGE: What do you think makes your relationship so successful?

Carl Andress: We're really just so in sync. I was just out of college when I met Charles. And we became immediate friends. I was working backstage as the head of wardrobe on this musical that he wrote the book for called "Swingtime Canteen" and I had talked my way into this job when I first moved to the city... I was so happy to be in a real New York theater. Charles eventually took over from Allison Fraser, who was starring in the show... That's where I first met him. We were the only males on this all-female show, all-female musicians, backstage crew and cast. We started off as protégé/mentor, and friends. Within the next couple of years, we were really focusing on the kind of stories that we wanted to tell. I just totally got into the kind of things that he wanted to do. And then what could I add to the story? (There was) a lot of bouncing ideas off each other...

Whenever we come together to work on a show, it's really just like putting on an old sweater in a certain sense, because it's a real comfortable place to be... We've spent the last 25 years trying to find the balance between playing sincere, honest sentiment and spoof or farce. Can we get away with being really dramatic without being overly melodramatic, depending on the nature of the story that Charles wants to tell as a writer?

EDGE: Is the script still evolving during the rehearsal process?

Carl Andress: Yes. Absolutely... Charles has the play in his bones, in his mind. He knows what he wants to do when he comes in. So, the process is about everybody else... Charles knows what he intends, but can hear what the other actors are bringing, (so) it affects his performance... He becomes even more generous as an author because he's hearing the play. People often say he's the most generous writer because he gives his supporting players so much to do...He think of them as co-stars, that they're all equal. If they get a laugh, it's his laugh. He's not competitive with his cast members, he never really has been, because it's all from his imagination. If they're successful, he's successful. And that's what he's striving for as a writer, and that's what I support him in as a director, as we bring the cast together.

by Frank J. Avella

Frank J. Avella is a proud EDGE and Awards Daily contributor. He serves as the GALECA Industry Liaison and is a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. His award-winning short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide ( Frank's screenplays have won numerous awards in 17 countries. Recently produced plays include LURED & VATICAL FALLS, both O'Neill semifinalists. He is currently working on a highly personal project, FROCI, about the queer Italian/Italian-American experience. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild.

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