From September 26th through November 8th, 2003, I performed in Ryan Landry’s The Gulls with The Gold Dust Orphans at Machine (a.k.a. the Ramrod Center for the Performing Arts) in Boston. Based on Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, in The Gulls, a campy horror, deadly seagulls have terrorized the luxury gay resort destination, Provincetown amidst gentrification and overdevelopment. In The Gulls, I played Bundy, a lesbian ornathologist who warns the towns people about the onslought of sea gulls and Barbara Streissand’s corpse (after being pecked to death).
The Gulls was written by Ryan Landry and directed by Jim Byrne. The ensemble was comprised of Penny Champayne, Windsor Newton, Buck Schott, Joe Shepard, Sara Lee, Miller Highlife, Park Avenue, Bam Bam Berry, David Hanbury, Olive Another, The Marsian, P.J. McWhiskers, and Richard “Hattie” Buckly.
I collaborated with The Gold Dust Orphans from 2003-2004. Founded in 1995 by writer/performer Ryan Landry with Scott Martino, Afrodite, and Billy Hough, The Orphans is a drag theater company based in Boston and Provincetown, Massachusetts. Landry’s plays are smart and funny adaptations of film, theatre and pop culture. With the Orphans, I worked on Pussy on the House, Who’s Afraid of the Virgin Mary, and The Gulls.
From The Boston Herald, by Terry Byrne, Friday, October 3, 2003:
Nearly 800 stuffed crows, sparrows, gulls, ducks, pigeons, roosters and other assorted birds are set to swoop, swirl and generally peck the actors in the Gold Dust Orphans’ production of The Gulls, which opens tonight at Machine.
“Our work is very cinematic in the way it spoofs cinema,” says Ryan Landry, founder of the Gold Dust Orphans and adapter of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds into The Gulls. “But it’s maximalist, not minimalist. Everything has to be super-detailed in its goofiness.”
Inspired goofiness is perhaps the best way to describe Landry’s approach to theater. Whether he’s reimagining a classic film or writing an original script, he has a sharp eye for the foibles of contemporary culture and a great visual sense. His work is getting some national attention, too, with a San Francisco group producing “sCarrie,’‘ his version of the Brian DePalma film, and an invitation to provide a piece for an upcoming Tennessee Williams festival.
But The Birds seemed a stretch even for Landry, as it’s best known for its gory attack scenes, done in Hitchcock’s precise shooting style.
“Everyone said we couldn’t do it,” Landry says. “So, of course, I got defiant and said we could. And when I looked at the screenplay I found a great love story, in which two people are trying to capture each other and then end up relying on each other instead.”
Landry follows Evan Hunter’s story line (which is based on a Daphne du Maurier short story), but uses The Gulls to comment on gentrification and overdevelopment in Provincetown and on the Cape.
“It’s mostly fun,” says Landry, “but as the Provincetown area’s fishing and natural beauty are stripped away, I wanted to say something about what happens when little guys band together. They can have real power. Although humans usually plow over nature without thinking twice, this time the animals are not moving for man.”
Of course, when working on a limited budget, in a space that’s a gay nightclub when it’s not transformed into The Gulls on Friday and Saturday nights, Landry and company have to be creative.
Windsor Newton creates the bare-bones sets, but sometimes simple plastic sheeting can create just the right atmosphere when birds are poking through it.
“It’s the theater,” Landry says. “You have to use your imagination. But a lot of the effects work with the help of lights and the soundscape.”
Landry says he relies on director James Byrne to work out the logistics of moving the actors around, but all of the Orphans contribute ideas for the special effects. But often, as with his hilarious TV screen in Medea, or the shower scene in sCarrie, or the puppet appearances in Charlie’s Angels, the low-budget special effects add to the general atmosphere of fun.
“It’s goofy,” says Landry. “But it’s real.”
(The Gulls, at Machine, 1254 Boylston St., Boston, Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 8. Tickets: $25. Call 617-265-6222. )
It’s a bird… it’s a bouffant… it’s SUPER CAMP! Just call him Jessica Tandy
Performing with the Gold Dust Orphans is like being in a rock band, says actor David Hanbury. “The performances are like rock concerts,” he says, “and the audiences have such a great connection with the actors.”
The Gold Dust Orphans are the eclectic group of actors who perform in Ryan Landry’s wildly inspired drag spoofs of everything from Charlie’s Angels and Medea to last year’s sCarrie and the newest show, The Gulls (based on Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds), which opens at Machine tonight.
“Ryan’s got a great sensitivity for choosing shows that are unexpected, but work really well onstage,” Hanbury says. “It’s like a great cover song. It’s a song people loved but forgot about, and he works with that familiarity.”
Hanbury also has appeared with the Orphans in The Bad Seed, Camille and Baby Jane, as well as Machinal and The Taming of the Shrew at the Theater Cooperative, and Pure PolyEsther and his one-man show Personal Instrument at the Theater Offensive. He’s a second-year acting student at Trinity Repertory Conservatory, where his writing has caught the eye of award-winning playwright Paula Vogel, and where he’ll play the Ghost of Christmas Future in that company’s annual A Christmas Carol.
In The Gulls, Hanbury says, “I play the Jessica Tandy role.”
It’s classic that with this Hitchcock film, as with many of his others, the characters’ names are lost but the actors who played them are seared into memory. In the film, a spoiled young woman who seems able to rise above any situation (played by Tippi Hedren onscreen, Penny Champayne onstage) moves to a remote coastal town, where she is inexplicably attacked by birds.
“Ryan talks about the Tippi Hedren character as the first yuppie,” Hanbury says. The town is also home to Mitch (played by Rod Taylor in the film), who becomes the Hedren character’s boyfriend, as well as to his mother and his sister. Tandy played Mitch’s mother.
Although Landry’s work has sometimes been criticized for being rough around the edges, Hanbury says that’s a part of its strength. And Hanbury says it’s ridiculous to label it simply a drag queen show.
“Ryan’s humor is like the world of the id,” he says. “It’s about primal conflict and emotion. What I’ve learned from working with him is not using character as a mask, but to work with the audience.
“(Internationally renowned director) Peter Brook says popular theater or rough theater juices things back up,” Hanbury says. “You can’t do naturalism on stage as well as on film, so you have to be different.”
“Contemporary consumer culture is dead,” Hanbury says. “But Ryan and the Gold Dust Orphans create an iconoclastic, counterculture, rock-‘n’-roll drag, clown, vaudeville world.”
How can you resist?