Ashmont’s Ryan Landry, who has labored for decades in Boston’s “fringe” theater scene, was recently awarded a prestigious fellowship by a mainstream cultural organization. He should be thrilled, right? Well, maybe, but he’s also near exhaustion.
The reward of increased recognition for the city’s hardest-working and perhaps most misunderstood theater troupe –the Dorchester-based Gold Dust Orphans—may well be an even more grueling schedule and further potential for misconstruction.
Landry, who founded the collaboratively creative Gold Dust Orphans Theatrical Company in 1995 and who writes, produces, and often stars in its gloriously cheesy shows, currently has his hands full with “The Phantom of the Oprah,” yet another fan-pleasing “mash-up of burlesque, vaudeville, silent movies, Broadway, rock opera, and television.”
This most recent, much-more-than-just-drag extravaganza with a budget of $50,000 runs through this Sunday at The Machine. Usually the leading lady, Landry this time around has written himself a minor role, ceding the focus to internationally known drag diva Varla Jean Merman, whose credits include “All My Children,” “Project Runway,” even Carnegie Hall.
In February, the Huntington Theatre Company selected Landry and two other locals from a pool of 60 applicants as members of 2010 class of Huntington Playwriting Fellows—thanks in part to the support of Huntington Artistic Director Peter Dubois, an Orphans’ fan.
The Huntington Playwriting Fellows program fosters the talents of local playwrights, and encourages and facilitates conversations among Boston’s playwriting community. Fellows are awarded two-year residencies during which they are provided a modest grant, participate in a bi-weekly writers’ collective, and benefit from access to the artistic staff and to the resources of the Huntington. Many past fellows have had a work produced by the Huntington.
The demands/privileges of the playwriting fellowship must be shoehorned into an already packed schedule: Landry is committed through the summer of 2011 with productions to be written and mounted here in Boston and Provincetown.
Though he had previously planned to debut a new spoof “Peter Pansy” as his next show, Landry has instead opted to revive his 2003 comedy “The Gulls” (May 7-May 29 at the Machine in Boston) and to bring this Hitchcock spoof to P’town.
For most of his 30 years in show business, Landry despaired of being part of the theater establishment. “They didn’t get me, and I didn’t get them.” More and more frequent kudos from critics like Terry Byrne and Joyce Kulhawik have brought higher prestige, but couldn’t prevent backstage slurs that soured the troupe’s participation in last year’s Boston Theater Marathon.
Despite the acclaim, Landry chafes that many still don’t get what the Orphans are all about. No matter how glowing the reviews, endorsements tend to be of a “guilty pleasure” nature with coy disclaimers and warnings about how outrageous the shows are, when, in fact, he says, the goings-on, however hard to describe, “are no worse than what the big repertory companies do.”
“We want to entertain our audiences. We want to leave them giddy. We don’t present ourselves as ‘great artists’ – though we are great artists in the sense that we’re very prolific and we work very hard –but we’re not trying to ‘change the face of face of local theater.’ ”
Questions remain about how Landry and his multitalented, multitasking fellow illusionists will be received this fall when they may trade their present South End basement space for the Calderwood Pavilion, where playgoers won’t feel the thrill of slumming at speakeasy-like gay bar.
Tentatively, Landry is mulling a reworking of Frederico Garcia Lorca’s famous all-female cast play as “The Condo of Bernanda Alba,” riffing on the theme “we no longer live in homes and how that changes our feelings about families.”
Aside from the possible autumn Calderwood date, the Orphans feel they might be outgrowing their current raunchy basement digs and are exploring possible new venues, including options in Dorchester.
But some things will never change, Landry vows. The Orphans will remain faithful to sensibilities of the LGBT and other audiences who have been with them from the beginning.
And despite the fact that he was singled out for the fellowship, Landry won’t work without his fellow Orphans, some of whom share his home.
“I’d never even think of going solo. My family is my family. I couldn’t do this without them.”