Ryan Landry does the Time Warp (again)

by Robert Nesti

EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor

Friday October 14, 2011

The first time I saw Ryan Landry he was an egg. An oversized egg that was the title character in "Rosemary's Baby: The Musical." I remember him sitting high on the stage peering out with a sheepish grin, as if modestly acknowledging the cheeky absurdity, based on the famous Roman Polanski film, he conceived and in which he starred. And I immediately was sold on the Orphans, as was anyone lucky enough to get into the Dollhouse Theatre - a janitor's closet turned into a tiny performing space in an artists' studio building in the South End - where the company thrived in its early days.

That the space became jammed to rafters only proved how successful the Gold Dust Orphans became, so successful that Landry moved to Machine, the club he's nicknamed "the Ramrod Center for the Performing Arts," where for more than a decade he has built a loyal fan base with his wildly original parodies of classics, from "The Bad Seed" to "The Birds" to "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", and last season, "Peter Pan" (renamed "Peter Pansy").

What I didn't see was the role that preceded Landry's performance as an egg - that was Dr. Frank-n-Furter in "The Rocky Horror Show" in a production produced by Boston Rock Opera in 1997. Those, though, who did see it tell me that I missed something special, largely because of Landry's performance as the "sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania" who sets out to create a muscle boy named Rocky Horror in this glam rock take on "Frankenstein."

In reviewing the production in the Boston Phoenix, Brett Milano wrote, "Ryan Landry played Frank-n-Furter much as he plays himself in Space Pussy (his band), managing to outdo Tim Curry's original for outright camp."

Starting this weekend and for the first time in years, Landry works with a script that is not his own and away from Machine. The Orphans' new production of "The Rocky Horror Show" will be playing just one night a week - Friday at 10:30pm - through December 2 at Oberon, the Harvard Square theater/nightclub where "The Donkey Show" has been playing for two years. As with that show, this will be an environmental production with the action taking place throughout the club. (Note: there will be an additional 8pm performance on October 21.)

EDGE spoke to the drag impresario (oops, cross-dressing actor/producer) about returning to "Rocky Horror," his issues with other productions and what's next with the Orphans.

Why ’Rocky Horror’?

EDGE: Why did you want to do 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show'?

Ryan Landry: Because I sincerely love the music. I also know that I don't have many years left to do this particular role so the time is NOW to show the freaky children how it's done! And honey, WATCH OUT because THIS IS how it's done!

EDGE: You did it once before - was it in 1997 for Boston Rock Opera? Do you have fond memories of that production?

Ryan Landry:Yes, actually. Except being rushed to the hospital on closing night with pneumonia, I have very fond memories. I remember how kind my friend Eleanor Ramsay was to ask me to do it, how afraid I was at first and how much fun I had once I dove in.

EDGE: Do you have an affinity with Dr. Frank N. Furter?

Ryan Landry: Does the Pope have an affinity for pretty white dresses? Of corpse! I love everything about Frank N. Furter. In fact I believe I have pretty much modeled myself after him in "real" life. It is true that NO ONE could ever HOPE to touch Tim Curry in the role but many of us have dreamed that dream. However, at the end of the day, like the the song says ... "Don't dream it, be it."

Transcends the mediocre

EDGE: 'Rocky Horror' is an iconic musical, but with that comes certain audience expectations. How do you look at the work with a fresh eye?

Ryan Landry: The same way you look at any masterpiece. It is a masterpiece for that very reason, because it is timeless. Because it's always one step ahead of you. Because it transcends the mediocre.

EDGE: What do you think the intent of Richard O'Brien was when he conceived the show?

Ryan Landry: To have a good time with his friends, maybe make a little money and be known on the underground circuit as a damn good songwriter. You see what a little dream like that can turn into? Goes to show you never know. You really never know.

EDGE: You've said that this will not be a 'Kids 'R Us' version of 'Rocky Horror.' Could you explain?

Ryan Landry: After witnessing fifteen years and fifty shows of unbridled debauchery, YOU (of all people) want me to "explain"?! ... Alright. Let's just say that the rocket they return to Transylvania in is shaped like a giant cock and at the end, it shoots a huge load of confetti all over the audience. You know the Gold Dust Orphans motto .... "Never an adult moment!"

’Bad Renaissance Faire’ productions

EDGE: Have you been disappointed with productions you've seen in the past because they are squeaky clean?

Ryan Landry: No. I've been disappointed with several productions I have seen in the past because they are boring. It's all very cutesy and "aren't we naughty." Reminds me of a bad Renaissance Faire. Often the cast is not willing to LIVE each character. They'd rather simply POSE as such. They set out to be very "cutting edge" and end up looking like overgrown Barbie Dolls in need of attention. In short, to play this shit RIGHT you gotta live, breathe and bleed "Rock and Roll," or go home.

EDGE: You've said the songs in the show are all about drug addiction - could you elaborate?

Ryan Landry: Allow me to quote a song lyric or two, all from separate songs in the score:.

"You get a hit and your mind goes ping."
"Now the only thing that gives me hope is my love of a certain dope."
"You're spaced out on sensation, like you're under sedation."

Nuff' said.

EDGE: Rocky Horror' is known for its audience-participation. Do you encourage or discourage such behavior?

Ryan Landry: Often, the one element that disrupts anyone's "Rocky Horror" experience is the rest of the audience. Through no fault of their own, they almost always end up talking OVER one another and the show. This usually means that if indeed anything "clever" IS said, it is not often HEARD. Still, the audience is vital to a GREAT "Rocky Horror" experience, so I suppose it depends on whether your room is filled with cool people or assholes. For the most part I plan to let people do what they want. When I've had enough I'll let them know it.

EDGE: Are you a fan of the film?

Ryan Landry: Absolutely. It gets to be a little "strange" in parts but then so do I.

No Ramrod Center for the Performing Arts?

EDGE: Who makes up the band in your production?

Ryan Landry: Gene Dante and the Future Starlets. The best band in Boston of course,

EDGE: This time you're at Oberon, not Machine. Why the move?

Ryan Landry: The story is simple. MACHINE was always bugging me to get out earlier so as to make room for Dyke Night, the Fetish crowd etc. So I obliged. Now they're bugging me to return. Unfortunately, they'll have to wait until Christmas as I am very busy right now producing a soon to be HUGELY SUCCESSFUL HIT SHOW in another venue.

EDGE: Is this the start of a relationship with the American Repertory Theater?

Ryan Landry: Well, .... let's just say we're dating.

EDGE: For years you've only performed in plays and musicals that you have written - what is it like working with a script that is not your own?

Ryan Landry: Great! I can now blame any jokes that bomb on somebody else!

EDGE: Was this one difficult to cast?

Ryan Landry: Not in the least. Every single person was perfect for their particular role the moment they walked into the room. No. I am not kidding.

EDGE: How would you describe the rehearsal process?

Ryan Landry: Grueling but exhilarating. Tedious but terrific. Frustrating but sensational. A real mind fuck that I would be willing to endure over and over again. Just wait. This cast is gonna blow your mind.

EDGE: Are you directing this production as well as producing and starring in?

Ryan Landry: "Who me? I can barely tie my lil' ol' tap shoes!" .... No. I suck as a director. My mind is all over the place. That job is best left to Captain James P. Byrne of the Starship, Patience. And he's one hell of a fearless leader.

EDGE: What is the hardest aspect of the production for you as a performer?

Ryan Landry: Eating scenery that hasn't been washed.

EDGE: What new shows are you working on?

Ryan Landry: First the return of "Mrs. Grinchley's Christmas Carol" in December and then my version of "The Little Foxes" entitled "The Little Pricks" in February. It will mark the first time John Kuntz and I will appear on the same stage together. VERY exciting!

EDGE: You did a reading of a new play of yours called 'Psyched' that you wrote for the playwriting program you participated in at the Huntington Theatre Company last spring. Are there plans for a more full-scaled production?

Ryan Landry: No. "Psyched" is done.

EDGE: What was the experience with that program like?

Ryan Landry: Terrific. Everyone at the Huntington was very kind. In fact I am currently writing a new one for them, (should I be asked to do next year's festival) based on Fritz Lang's "M" and starring Karen MacDonald, a dear friend whom I trust and love.

EDGE: What's next for the Orphans?

Ryan Landry: The moon and beyond.

"The Rocky Horror Show" continues through December 2, 2011 at 11:30 pm. (Note: October 21 there's an additional performance at 8pm) at Oberon, 2 Arrow Street, Cambridge, MA. For more information, visit The Gold Dust Orphans website.

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].