Behind the Shower Curtain with Ryan Landry's Psyched

Very few things can be said about Ryan Landry's upcoming Psyched.

Fact #1: The play is a parodic riff on Alfred Hitchcock's masterwork Psycho as seen through the eyes of its most famous offstage character — Norman Bates's mother. The character, whom Landry names Norma, is the center of the play, even as the playwright continues to develop the script.

"Norma is a philosopher with a really fucked-up view of the world," Landry says. "She's a mystery to me, but I really kind of love her." Landry has spun-off from Hitchcock's work before with The Gulls, a take on The Birds set in Provincetown that was recently revived to sell-out crowds both in Boston and on the Cape.

Fact #2: Landry is working on the play with frequent collaborator Larry Coen. "I love plays like Psyched," Coen says. "It reminds me of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead — characters who have never had their story told. We have very strong feelings about Mrs. Bates, but we have never heard her story."

To be with Landry and Cohen as they discuss Psyched is dizzying. They riff from Hitchcock to Henry James to drag to the Ashcan School back to Hitchcock with deep mutual respect and fierce intelligence. Landry and Coen worked together most recently on The Phantom of the Oprah. Landry's company, the Gold Dust Orphans, won a bevy of Elliot Norton Awards for Phantom, including one for Coen's direction.

Fact #3: Psyched is the first co-production of the Orphans with the Huntington Theatre Company. Landry has been a Huntington Playwriting Fellow since the fall of 2009, and Artistic Director Peter DuBois has looked for a way to marry the dazzling, low-budget theatrics of the Orphans with the more mainstream Huntington.

The aesthetic of the Orphans is "simple magic: stuff that is so simple it blows people away," says Coen. "One of my favorite things from an Orphans show was a cut-out of a sink where someone was washing dishes. It was the same dish being passed through: whoever was drying it was putting it in the rack, so it was like it was coming back. But, it was only one dish! You can see it — it's not a trick, but it's delightful."

Facet #5: Psyched will be a one-day-only theatrical event in Deane Hall, one of the rehearsal spaces in the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. Deane Hall only seats 100, so tickets will be extremely limited. The play will be tailor-made for that space. "The reality of everything is this is site-specific," Coen says. "If something is available, imaginative, and stimulating, then we will incorporate it." The working sink? Check. The window from an upstairs office? Check. The many doors, closets, alcoves, overhangs? They want to use them all.

This approach will be recognizable from Landry's work in the Ramrod Center for the Performing Arts, a theater space inside the leather bar Machine. The tiny stage is often host to vast epics, and Landry, as founder of the Orphans, developed that aesthetic one project at a time. He still tries with every project to push himself further and to experiment. "How fucking psycho and weird can we get and still hold on to [the audience]?," Landry wonders with regard to Psyched. "We don't want to lose them. I want them thinking they are going to come and see some drag party. Then, I want them to leave a little disturbed — laughing, but a little disturbed."

Charles Haugland, Literary Associate, and Cheyenne Postall, Literary Professional Intern

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