Donning heels and a wig isn’t necessarily actor and director Ed Sparan’s idea of fun, but it’s a labor of love when it comes to one of his favorite playwrights, Charles Busch. Sparan is directing and starring in a new production of Busch’s classic “Die, Mommie, Die!” opening this weekend at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale.
“I’ve always been such a big fan of Charles Busch and directed a lot of his plays when I was an actor in New York in the ‘80s,” Sparan said. “I fell in love with the Charles Busch style of theater.”
“Die, Mommie, Die!” was first staged in Los Angeles in 1999 and has been produced Off Broadway and across the country. The satirical dark comedy pays homage to the “psycho-biddy” of the 1950s and 1960s that featured aging actresses like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Ethel Merman. Busch starred in a film adaptation in 2003 that is still available on streaming and movie rental services.
Sparan hesitated to throw out any spoilers, but the plot goes like this: Angela (Sparan) is trapped in a bad marriage with film producer Sol Sussman. Desperate to find happiness with her younger lover, an out-of-work TV actor, Angela murders her husband with a poisoned suppository.
Angela’s daughter, Edith, convinces her emotionally disturbed brother, Lance, that they must avenge their father’s death by killing their mother. Lance, demanding proof, slips some LSD into her coffee. All hell then breaks loose as the family’s dirty laundry is eventually aired.
“It is a challenge because I’m older,” reflected Sparan on his gender-bending role. “I don’t act that much anymore— I did ‘Muscle Bears the Musical’ last summer—but, I couldn’t find the right person I was looking for and I thought I might like to do this because it’s a role of the lifetime. It’s such a fun play and harks back to the old Shakespearean style of male actors playing the female role. It’s not really drag.”
Sparan, a theater veteran, is willing to make sacrifices for his craft. The Connecticut native moved to New York while still a teen. Openly gay in the early 1980s, Sparan found plenty of roles in gay theater productions (“I wasn’t shy,” he said.) before landing a gig on Broadway in “A Chorus Line” as Gregory, the gay dancer. At the height of the AIDS crisis, few actors—gay or straight—were willing to take on a gay role.
After moving to South Florida in 1990, he more into writing, directing and education as artistic director of the PWA (People With AIDS) Theater. More recently, he was director of operations for the World AIDS Museum in Wilton Manors.
“In some ways, I was still doing what I did 25 or 30 years ago,” Sparan reflected.
Charles Busch’s “Die, Mommie, Die!” runs Sept. 14 – 30 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr. in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $30 at Eventbrite.com.