Charles Busch is a cherished New York actor and playwright specializing in playing Hollywood leading ladies. In The Tribute Artist, directed by Carl Andress, a longtime collaborator, he plays a drag artist who can no longer find work in a Las Vegas that would rather see a drag Beyoncé than a Marilyn. In retirement, though coiffed and in a gown, he visits with reclusive widow Adriana (Cynthia Harris). Busch does his signature late sweeping entrance, looking impossibly glam. They relive old times and old loves with Rita, a lesbian real estate shark played full-throttle by clotheshorse and Busch star Julie Halston.
The modern art-filled, bookish parlor of Adriana’s elegant house in the West Village has wedding-cake walls and ceiling, as Rita points out. It’s every New Yorker’s fantasy to own such digs. They drink too much and sleep over. When they wake up, they find Adriana has sadly expired in her sleep. Estranged from family, she left no will. Well, the tribute artist can impersonate the widow! The real estate agent can sell the house for millions! But wait—the widow’s beautician niece (Mary Bacon) arrives from Wisconsin with her transgender son. Fortunately, they haven’t seen the aunt since childhood. The tribute artist looks just enough like the old moneybags to convince them.
Thanks to a Facebook connection, the widow’s much younger boyfriend of yore appears. He also has not seen the widow for years and buys the hoax for a while. Jonathan Walker is full of surprises. Keira Keeley as the transgender Oliver is adorable and smart, and just wait until you see her in a tuxedo. It’s all good—as long as nobody looks in the fur vault in the cellar.
Charles Busch has always been outrageously ahead of his time. The Tribute Artist suggests the world may be trying to catch up. Crisp, original music by Lewis Flinn enhances the fun.
Not far from the midtown 59E59 theater is Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecôte, a French brasserie with branches in London and Paris. There is no menu—the steak frites is all there is. Le Relais label vin rouge is only $25 a bottle, and the prix-fixe dinner costs only a couple of dollars more. No reservations, so go there at an off hour.
You start with a beautiful green salad with walnuts in a sharp, mustardy vinaigrette. The entrecote, lean sirloin, is best rare or bleu (bloody) and is served sliced, in a pale, tarragon-inflected sauce that has a secret recipe. Half of the tender meat is kept hot on a chafing dish while you eat.
You'll think you are in Paris. The all-female staff is dazzlingly efficient. You're in good hands! With the second half of your perfect steak comes another portion of heavenly crisp, hot, skinny frites such as you've only enjoyed in Europe (or French Canada). The house steak sauce will make you never want catsup with your fries again, which is a good thing, because you can’t get catsup here even if you asked for it—or mayonnaise, or butter for your baguette.
Although there isn’t a main-course menu, the dessert menu has a huge selection, including a cheese platter with nuts that works as a main course. (That and the walnut salad is a tip-top selection for vegetarians.) The most ordered desserts are the profiteroles in Belgian chocolate and the 8" meringue tower.