Ryan Landry Revisits Mrs. Grinchley, This Time with a Touch of Dickens

Monday December 6, 2021

Ryan Landry in a graphic for "A Grinchley Christmas Carol."
Ryan Landry in a graphic for "A Grinchley Christmas Carol."  

Ryan Landry and his Gold Dust Orphans have returned to their new South Boston digs with the writer/star appearing again as his iconic character, Mrs. Grinchley. This time, though, with a touch of Dickens.

EDGE catches up with Ryan Landry by phone while he's at Target, loading up with the sorts of supplies needed to put on a Gold Dust Orphans Christmas show. It's an especially exciting moment, given how long COVID-19 has kept Landry and his spirited troupe waiting in the wings.

"It's been two years and now it's back on stage," Landry tells EDGE. His excitement is palpable: "We kept buying everything, and I have to make costumes, and you don't need to hear my troubles, but there's a lot to do."

That's to be expected; Gold Dust Orphans productions are, well, productions. They transform a theatrical space into a spectacle that's imprinted with a certain sensibility, from the sharply satirical writing to the costumes and scenic elements.

"The thing is, we're maximalists," Landry says. "We don't put a ladder on the stage and call it the Eiffel Tower, we build Paris." And for that reason, he adds, "It can be problematic as far as getting it all done in time."

For their return, the Orphans have something special planned: The return of the villainous Mrs. Grinchley in what the Gold Dust Orphans website promises is a "fun loving, fast paced fruitcake, full of all things 'holiday' (spiced with naughtiness that could only come from the Orphans), based on the holiday classics of Charles Dickens and Dr, Seuss."

What could this confection be? The title gives a broad hint: "A Grinchley Christmas Carol."

Landry told EDGE all about the new opus. EDGE removed the spoilers he enthusiastically let fly.

A scene from "A Grinchley Christmas Carol."
A scene from "A Grinchley Christmas Carol."  

EDGE: What have you been doing while the COVID pandemic has kept playhouses dark?

Ryan Landry: I've turned into a visual artist! I've started painting. I've done really well; I have two have two galleries presenting my work now. Painting is something I always wanted to do when I got old, which by the way I am. But I'm just not ready to give up on theater just yet, because I love it so much.

EDGE: I can't imagine you're "give up" on theater.

Ryan Landry: "I mean, at this point I'm only doing a couple big shows a year, not doing five like I used to. But it's still just as stressful! There's so much to put together to create a whole world. If I was doing one of those plays where it's just like three yuppie kids complaining about how mommy and daddy don't love them, that would probably be a lot cheaper; just set it in some modernist living room.

And we have musical numbers! There's four dancers tap dancing, and there's four back-up Grinch ladies doing a Supremes number ... you've gotta keep the visual pop-pop-popping! We have ghosts flying over the audience, and all of that has to be rigged. And then we have a giant Grinch puppet that is playing he Jacob Marley role. You need six people to work it."

A scene from "A Grinchley Christmas Carol."
A scene from "A Grinchley Christmas Carol."  

EDGE: And you have a big crew of Gold Dust Orphans that have come back to work with you. Was it hard to keep them all together for that two years, or did they stick by you the whole time?

Ryan Landry: They stick by me. They're my family. I don't really like auditioning people, because ours is a style that has to be trained into people. It's very difficult to train someone in the style, because [performers are] so used to cinematic things, in the sense of, like, having 15 microphones on them. So, the new actors that come to me usually talk at a whisper, and I'm like, "This is fucking English music hall! You got to like, speak up!"

You've got to train them about that, and you've got to train them about sightlines, and you have to train them about joke delivery and how to play it sincerely and let the dialogue do the work, which is a hard lesson for them to learn because they think that because they're joining a comedic company that they've got to try to be funny. My style comes from an English music hall burlesque tradition... though, you know, it's partially John Waters, with a lot of Charles Busch. There's a mix there.

But the Orphans also have their very own style. I've seen people across the country do my plays, and they never do them right. I've left in tears seeing some of my plays because they play them so jokey; they're trying to be funny, and it doesn't work. You have to be sincere. When you shoot the Little Match Girl dead within the first five seconds of the show, you're got to have a death scene. The style is very specific.

EDGE: If you were, like John Waters, going to move to film at some point, you would still want to supervise. You wouldn't want to end up leaving a movie theater in tears.

Ryan Landry: No, absolutely not. I'd have to direct it myself, and I would have to use the same people I've worked with for years because, again, training people as to what I mean when I say things ... I mean, I babble a lot. My mind just sort of dumps out information, and people have to be around me long enough to pick up on what the hell I'm talking about, because otherwise it just sounds like complete nonsense — and, for the most part, it is, but they can glean something good out of it.

Ryan Landry in "A Grinchley Christmas Carol."
Ryan Landry in "A Grinchley Christmas Carol."  

EDGE: The Orphans now have a new sandbox to play in since the end of Ramrod. You're now at the Iron Wolf Theatre in South Boston. How do you like that new space?

Ryan Landry: Oh my god!! I fucking love it! It is one of the greatest things that ever happened in my life. They are the nicest people. At Machine I had, like, dead rats in my dressing room — it was horrible. And in in this new place, we have a whole floor to build on. And then we have a whole floor to rehearse on. And then we have like a floor to perform on. Although, I shouldn't advertise that too much, or someone will try and steal it from me. That's the Boston theater community for you! I don't want them knowing shit.

EDGE: The press materials for "A Grinchley Christmas Carol" promise that the play features "the return of Mrs. Grinchley, the most loathsome villainess since Donald J. Trump."

Ryan Landry: She's more evil. Rotten! Horrid! Vile! Evil! She stinks!

EDGE: And, of course you have to play her, Ryan. Nobody else could tackle the role. She'll be fabulously bad — like, "Mommy Dearest" diabolical.

Ryan Landry: Oh, no. Worse than that. Satan shies away from her. Saddam Hussein looks like Don Knotts next to her. But, of course, she never wins in the end. But I think the audience loves her because she just says anything and doesn't give a fuck about anything or anyone. And I don't think they love it like, "Oh, she's living the right life." I think it's we all secretly wish we could say whatever we think, and she can't help it.

A scene from "A Grinchley Christmas Carol."
A scene from "A Grinchley Christmas Carol."  

EDGE: You're revisited this character... how many times?

Ryan Landry: I've done Mrs. Grinchley in about seven or eight Christmas shows over the years, so yes, she's the character I've most often revisited... besides Shirley Holmes the Drag Detective. I've done Shirley Holmes a lot, too.

EDGE: Why did you decide to bring her back now? You had a new idea for how to put Mrs. Grinchley into Charles Dickens, or...?

Ryan Landry: Well, I was going to do "Jerusalem Park," which was about like this aging theatre company that gets the chance to play in the Holy Land, and then they wind up tenting outside of Bethlehem and they run into dinosaurs. But I think before you get into that kind of thinking, you have to wait until your audience is back in stride with you, and I was afraid that the audience wouldn't be in stride with me. I mean, we've sold 1,800 tickets so far, but I didn't know we would be selling like we are. I had no idea if we'd get anyone to come because of COVID stuff.

EDGE: What horrors have you got planned for Mrs. Grinchley to face from her past, her future, and her present?

Ryan Landry: It's really all about greed. For instance, she starts talking about the Pine Street Inn as if it were a cushy hotel. It's like how Scrooge talks about how workhouses are perfectly fine. What she talks about is how she can just put a Starbucks in and serve people raw sewage in the cups — but then she realizes that raw sewage costs money, so she figures that she's gonna try to sell some empty cups. It's that kind of endless greed. She's a real estate agent! Just kidding. But she goes to a rave and does molly, so [by the end] she's feeling young and happy.

Ryan Landry
Ryan Landry  

EDGE: You have Kiki Samko coming back to direct once again. What's the process between you and her when it comes to her directing your stuff?

Ryan Landry: She's, like, my child. I don't know why we haven't worked together for more years than we have; she knows exactly what I want, and she makes sure to get it done. She's just the greatest; she's as good as my dear friend [the late] Larry Cohen, who I miss every day. He loved her; and I love her; and so, it's a natural progression that she's now the director.

EDGE: This is a musical. Tell me about the songs.

Ryan Landry: I usually just do parody songs because I have so much going on that I can't deal with a band to record it and all that. I can write original music, but it takes forever and it costs a fortune, so I use karaoke tracks. I've got eight musical numbers with backup singers and all that — it's a full musical. I go all-out with the numbers and make sure that the backup dancers have outfits that match. It's all about fun! I'm just having a good time with a bunch of people who have a good sense of humor.

EDGE: What are you working on for your next production?

Ryan Landry: I think I'm probably going to bring back ["The Birds" parody] "The Gulls" one last time, because I love it so much. That would be spring into summer, and then after that it's back to working on whatever I'll do for next Christmas time. That's all I can handle. It's too much!

"A Grinchley Christmas Carol" runs December 2 through 19 at the Iron Wolf Theatre, located in the South Boston Lithuanian Citizens' Association, 368 West Broadway, Third Floor, South Boston, MA 02127