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Charles Busch Comedy Comes to Houston

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Jay Menchaca and Terry Jones, costars of ‘Olive and the Bitter Herbs,’ talk to OutSmart.

by Donalevan Maines

Jay Menchaca (left) costars in "Olive and the Bitter Herbs" with Terry Jones (right).
Jay Menchaca (left) costars in “Olive and the Bitter Herbs” with Terry Jones (right).

He can light up a room with his smile, but in Olive and the Bitter Herbs, sunny Jay Menchaca plays bitter queen Trey Chamblay. “Trey has hands-down the funniest lines,” says Menchaca, who stars in the Charles Busch comedy at Theatre Suburbia.

Terry Jones plays his longsuffering partner, Robert, often the butt of Trey’s acerbic wit. Both are intrigued with the cranky title character, a neighbor who claims a spirit communicates with her through a large decorative mirror in her rent-controlled Manhattan apartment.

“It’s my first show at Theatre Suburbia,” says Jones, who frequently performs in Roger Woest’s “Caring Cabaret” that raises money for various Houston charities. Last year, Jones scored a dramatic homerun with the Moisés Kaufman monologue, “London Mosquitoes,” in Celebration Theatre’s production of Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church. “It’s my home theater,” says the mercurial Menchaca. “I started here when I was 16.”

Menchaca donned drag as Barbie in a Theatre Suburbia production of All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go, but this isn’t one of those movie spoofs that made Busch famous for performing the female roles. It’s more like Busch’s Broadway writing debut, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, which ran for 777 performances and was nominated for a Tony Award for best play in 2001.

Trey’s sour disposition is “super, super, super similar,” Menchaca says, to that of the title character, Olive Fisher, an actress who gained fame as the “Gimme the Sausage” queen in a television commercial. She’s bitter, too (a real shtarker, she says). Explaining how her marriage ended to a husband with a music school in Yonkers, Olive explains, “Among his faculty was a lonely widow who specializes in the oboe. [She mimes blowing into the instrument.] Need I say more?”

Trey and Robert have been together almost 40 years. “Like any couple who’s been together that long, they know what buttons to push,” says director Suzanne King.

“I was his Eliza Doolittle,” says Trey.

“He makes it sound like a May/December romance,” Robert protests. “It was more like May/June.”

In real life, Jones married his partner, Adam Garcia, in California last November. “On a practical level, we want the benefits that married couples get,” says Jones. “It’s a fair deal. We’re all entitled.

“That made it no less emotional,” he adds. “In fact, the first vows we exchanged were on the first gay cruise we went on, 11 years ago. They meant nothing legally, but I cried then.

“Ten years later, we had our anniversary party,” says Jones. “That time, Adam got choked up. And our wedding in California was emotional.”

Jones co-created and performed with Deborah Boily in Seasons in the Sun: A Celebration of Jacques Brel at Ovations. Other memorable productions Jones counts include Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well, Nine, Promises, Promises, and A Catered Affair at Main Street Theater; Godspell, The Crucible, and To Kill a Mockingbird at AD Players; Assassins, The Rink, and Passion at Theater LaB Houston; and Sweeney Todd, Orphans, and Parade at Masquerade Theater.

Menchaca played Emory, the livewire who gives the birthday boy a night with a hustler, in last year’s production of The Boys in the Band at Country Playhouse. The Sisters Rosenzweig, A Few Good Men, Sylvia, Lend Me a Tenor, and Absurd Person Singular are a few more hits he’s appeared in throughout Houston.

King fell in love with Charles Busch’s writing when she played Lotte von Elsner in his kitschy sendup of 1940s movie thrillers, The Lady in Question, at The Actors Workshop in 1998. “It was absolutely probably one of my favorite shows to be part of,” she says. “I was 34, and I played a pre-teen girl with little braided pigtails and a baby-doll dress. Of course, the female lead was played by a male.” The Lady in Question Is Charles Busch is an affectionate 2005 documentary about Busch that won a Glitter Award for best documentary voted on by programmers and directors of LGBT film festivals and gay journalists.

What: Olive and the Bitter Herbs
When: April 11–May 10
Where: Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out W Dr.
Tickets/info: theatresuburbia.org or 713.682.3525.

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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