Queen Amarantha


Charles Busch goes royal; we are amused


Queen Amarantha -  Charles and Marcus PGN.jpg (29019 bytes)NEW YORK – Charles Busch has taken on many celebrated women in his career, but seldom have his ambitions aimed quite as high as in “Queen Amarantha,”  Busch creates a medieval monarch whose persona is a recipe combining heaping portions of Greta Garbo in “Queen Christina,” Sarah Bernhardt in “L’Aignon,” Geraldine Ferrar in “Joan the Woman” and Rhonda Fleming in God-only-knows-what.

Busch seems to find strength in Browning’s notion of one’s reach exceeding one’s grasp.  “Queen Amarantha” sets out for  higher artistic ground than any of the earlier Busch camp meetings like “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” or “Psycho Beach Party.”

Large stretches of “Queen Amarantha” are written and played straight – or at least straight in a sort of Cecil B. DeMille fashion.  The script is less “jokey,” more of a heightened vision of the sort of pot-boiler plays that were once the stock-in-trade of touring companies before television, realism and common sense came into vogue.

This is still a Busch vehicle, and he’s written himself a part in which he ends up playing a woman who at various times masquerades as a man, and does love scenes as a woman, love scenes as a boy, delivers great stirring exhortations to her people and goes head to head in a rollicking sword battle with Ruth Williamson.

The laughs are there, but they aren’t the barrage of bad puns and double-entendres that mark  his earlier plays.  Busch has raised the stakes with “Queen Amarantha”: He’s taking on a style of theater, and, while he succeeds, he’s asking more of  his audiences than ever.  But, he’s giving them a lot more, too.

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