At one time, Coy Covington tried to avoid drag roles, but with âThe Divine Sister,â heâs fully embraced his inner Busch
Coy Covington vividly recalls the first time he met Charles Busch in person.
Busch is a legend in gay theater â" heck, the theater world generally. A Tony-nominated playwright, heâs also performed in many of the shows heâs written, usually playing the heroine himself, in drag. (One of the gimmicks: No one acknowledges it is a man in drag.)
Covington, one of Dallasâ most charming bon vivants and legendary for his performances in drag, has been a natural go-to guy for Busch roles for more than a decade. So it was fitting they should meet while Covington was recreating one of Buschâs signature characters in Die, Mommie! Die!
âWe had established an online relationship through a mutual friend â" this was before Facebook â" but had never met,â Covington recalls. âThen one of his movies was chosen to screen at the USA Film Festival, and [Busch] was coming to Dallas to make an appearance â¦ which happened to be during the run of Die, Mommie! Die! He rarely attends because they are often so rotten, but some friends convinced him to go.â
âIt was one of my best nights in the theater,â he coos. âSometimes the fairy dust falls and everything goes right. That was probably our best performance of the run. After the show we just gabbed and dished for hours. Charles and I especially bonded over wigs â" wigs are my life, and his. He was so kind and warm and funny; he even said he was gonna steal some of the bits from our show for his upcoming production.â
Since then, Covington and Busch have stayed in touch, even so far as communicating while Covington prepares for his latest role, the Mother Superior in Buschâs most recent play, The Divine Sister, which opens Friday.
Buschâs plays have spoofed â60s beach musicals-cum-slasher movies (Psycho Beach Party), Douglas Sirk films (Die, Mommie! Die!) , commie-baiting melodramas (Red Scare on Sunset) and even a horror-biblical epic hybrid (Vampire Lesbians of Sodom). The Divine Sister tackles another genre: The heartfelt nun movies and TV shows of the late â50s and â60s, including The Nunâs Story, The Singing Nun, Change of Habit and The Flying Nun. But donât expect it to be preachy.
âHe writes such wild stuff,â Covington says. âThrough him Iâve been through the Byzantine era, the Spanish Inquisition, â40s Hollywood, â50s Hollywood, Iâve been a whore, a murderess â¦ now Iâm a nun. He once said to me, âI have to keep writing to keep you in roles!â Heâs my divine sister. Iâm very grateful.â
Covington didnât always feel that way. There was a time when he had to be convinced to audition for a Busch play.
âI went through a little bit of a phase where I resisted,â he says, wanting to play, as he calls them, âtrouser roles.â âBut I kind of succumbed to the notion that this is my niche â" itâs what Iâm best at. Iâll have to hang my wig on that. I would like to play a role in pants again, though.â
Being friendly with Busch has challenged Covington to do his best when approaching one of his roles â" and this time, itâs especially taxing.
âI like to pay homage to what heâs created of the period. Heâs a cinema historian and he takes these parodies very seriously and with a true affection for these ladies. But with his stuff the devil is in the details. The syntax is so specific, so the dialogue has been hell to master. Because the characters are so complex, you canât skip anything. As I like to say, you canât trim the Busch. But I also have to make it my own.â
Covington has a crew of allies helping him out. Along with producers Craig Lynch and Jeff Rane, The Divine Sister reunites Covington with director Andi Allen and costumer Suzi Cranford, plus his frequent onstage co-star Kevin Moore. And he takes inspiration from Busch as well.
âSince we have a personal relationship, it not only makes it all that more fun to do, it is more important to me that I donât fuck this thing up,â he says.
He also gets to enjoy the ride of doing another riotous comedy that plays its humor close to the vest â" or rather, wimple. Although inspired by perky nun movies, âitâs really a perverse parody of the secret lives of nuns,â he explains. âYou have horny novices, a young boy destined to go over the rainbow, a dominatrix in hiding and a monologue about extreme penile endowment. This ainât a [dour] sermon â" thereâs a lot of blue humor. But my character stays true to her vows. Itâs about redemption â" losing your faith and then regaining it, and the mother superior is steadfast.â
Despite the ultimate message about spirituality, Covington knows it will be considered another drag comedy. And while he burns a candle that he may take on a more serious part again,Â heâs come to terms with it if he doesnât.
âI long to do some serious stuff,â he sighs,â âbut I know my mission too: it is to entertain and spread Godâs love.â
Just like a good nun.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 13, 2012.