“I wanted to make Peter proud. He’s been so kind to me,” Landry said. “And I wanted to make myself proud.”
Blending different styles
DuBois hopes “M” will bring some of the Orphans’ audience to the Huntington, and introduce his own theater’s regulars to what he called Landry’s “wild aesthetic and unbridled lunacy.” Landry, likewise, would be happy if some of the Huntington crowd might now dare to visit Machine to see the Orphans’ “Pornocchio,” opening April 26.
First, though, they’ve got to get “M” up, which means blending two very different styles of working. “Ryan definitely shakes things up,” DuBois said. “It’s pretty great, actually.”
In Landry’s usual way of working, on an Orphans show, a lot of people have input, but Landry is the decider and can change things in an instant. It’s not so simple with “M.”
The Huntington “is a really big ship and it’s hard to turn quickly,” said “M” director Caitlin Lowans. The collaboration, she said, “is going really well, which is not to say it’s not totally weird and strange and stretchy for everyone.”
Landry needs to see things on their feet, said Lowans, who directed his play “Psyched,” starring Coen as Norman Bates’s mother, for the Huntington as part of the Emerging America festival in 2011. “He’s very honest,” she said, “and if he thinks something doesn’t work, he’s not like, ‘Oh well, you know, maybe try that for a little while.’ He’s like, ‘Nope! Not gonna work!’ ”
“I’m a loudmouth, kind of a bulldozer in rehearsal,” Landry said. “She just sits there patiently, and then she takes charge, and I have to shut my mouth. She knows how to shut me up. She’s great at what she does, and we’re great together, actually.”
The script for “M” has been in progress since last spring, including two weeklong workshops, eliciting from Landry a painstaking attention to detail that Orphans scripts don’t usually get. “Did you ever have the crabs, and you have to use that comb that they give you?” he asked with a smile. “It’s like using one of those combs, searching, searching. Are there any mistakes? Searching. Are there any problems? Timeline issues?”
Lisa Timmel, the Huntington’s director of new work, has been giving Landry notes on drafts of various plays since the beginning of his fellowship. She’s become attuned to his particular way of crafting a script.
“You have to go for the ride with him and see where you are at the end of the ride before you bring in your questions,” Timmel said. “We really do trust his vision, and we really do try to give him as much rope as possible.”
Landry, who has made an aesthetic virtue of the Orphans’ low budgets, noted that design meetings with his own company usually consist of him and one or two other people. “Here they tell me there’s a design meeting, and I open the door, and there are, like, 75 people there!” He burst into laughter.
He is a self-described “Nazi in rehearsal” with the Orphans, while at the Huntington he’s had to adjust his style to Actors’ Equity Association rules about niceties such as scheduled breaks. But he has discovered there are virtues in that kind of professionalism as well.
“When you come in here, everything is getting done and no one is complaining,” he said. “Believe me, with the Orphans it can be like being the mother of a dysfunctional, horribly spoiled group. . . . ‘Liza’s not getting along with Johnny today because Johnny ate his manicotti that he was saving in the refrigerator.’ ”
Landry has been making his opinions known in areas like marketing, too. While it’s not unusual for a playwright to offer an opinion on such topics, Huntington staffers say Landry’s involvement has gone way beyond the norm.
“Now he says he’s going to be selling T-shirts in the lobby dressed as a red balloon. It’s just stuff we don’t normally have happen in the theater,” DuBois said, sounding gleeful.
As a playwright, performer, and producer, Landry has built an entire career on doing things his own way. And, like any other career, it has not come without some resentments.
“When you’ve ridden in the back of the bus as long as I have and don’t feel part of the ‘professional’ theater scene in Boston because most people think of you as a drag queen and think it’s just a glorified drag show and you’re not doing ‘real’ theater and all those things I’ve had to deal with for a lot of years, you start losing a lot of faith in the system,” Landry said. “But this feels like it does validate my work, or whatever.”
Landry said he feels “honored” by all the hours and dollars the Huntington is devoting to realizing onstage the vision in his head.Continued...