Theater Interview: JUSTIN SAYRE (writer and star of RAVENSWOOD MANOR at the Celebration Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on November 8, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles


Now camping through November 24 is Ravenswood Manor, a much-needed send-up of all things soap, perhaps even the one you dropped in the shower. You never know with funnyman Justin Sayre, writer of this brand-new series with “wood” and “man” in the title. Think chunks of Dark Shadows sprinkled with even more camp and even more soap than that. The guffaw-inducing gothic gags involve the goings-on of a small New England town during a spring way, way, way back in history: 1976. At Celebration Theatre in Hollywood, each week changes: Episodes 1 & 2 will be performed during the first week, Eps. 3 & 4 the second week, and — really, do I hafta go all the way to the end? Don’t worry if you only go once, cause you only live twice, and you’ll be caught up on what happened before you got there. Like a gay CNN perhaps.

Stage and Cinema was going to interview directors Tom DeTrinis and Jessica Hanna (hey, girl!), but we needed someone even more super-smart, super-fast and super-funny to pique your interest. After a full-day meeting involving carb-free doughnuts and thick coffee, we figured we’d call Justin Sayre and ask him if he knew anyone. But time is of the essence when selling tickets, so we decided to ask him some questions before the coffee really kicked in!

STAGE AND CINEMA: How much of each episode’s script is memorized
and how much is improvised?
It sounds almost like The Mystery of Irma Vep meets The Groundlings.

JUSTIN SAYRE: The show is completely memorized. It’s all written. There are little additions that come from the brilliant cast, of course, but the whole show is written and I would say 97% of the show is on the page. I wouldn’t ever want to hold these amazing actors and comedians back, but they all want to stay true to the story, and that brilliance and dedication is palpable. It’s a lot like Vep, surely, and I think we all take the legacy of Ludlam very seriously. We even have an original signed program of Ludlam’s Camille hidden in the set as a little totem to remember that connection.

S&C: Have you ever done anything like this before?

J.S: No, not really. I mean I’ve written little camp play-ettes and things, but nothing on this scale and with this thread of mystery. It was a great challenge, and so much fun to create. I already can’t wait to write season 2!

S&C: What soaps were you hooked on in your early days? (Mine was All My Children.)

J.S: My grandmother loved General Hospital, but I loved those late-night soaps like 90210 or Melrose Place as a kid. My favorite of all time is probably Grey’s Anatomy. That’s a Soap, right? It was only later, after falling in love with Camp, did I really investigate shows like Dynasty and Falcon Crest and even Dark Shadows, which have all now become favorites.

S&C: Where is your home base?

J.S: Well, for the last five years it’s been Los Angeles. But I’m going off in the next few months to write my newest book and a new play. I, of course, have a long association and an even longer-standing love for New York, and go back as often as I can. Over the next few years, I really want to be more bicoastal, with a firm home base in my favorite city, New Orleans. So would that make me tri-coastal? Is that a thing?

S&C: How did this project end up at Celebration Theatre?

J.S: I had been a fan of the Celebration, and certainly a fan of their mission. I, very resoundingly, consider myself an LGBTQ artist, and like a space that allies itself with telling stories from my community. I had also been a huge fan of Tom DeTrinis, who I saw in Die, Mommy, Die and saw his direction of the first reading of Born to Win. I wanted Tom to work on this. And I knew and have long loved Jessica Hanna’s work, so the thought of having both would be a dream come true. Bringing this to the Celebration was a no-brainer. And with Michael Shepperd, really falling in love with the piece and the experimental episodic nature, it seemed like a great fit. And it has been. Working with Christopher Maikish, who is a true prince, and our wonderful producer, Gina Torrecilla, are both such a credit and a joy. They all make this show the uproarious romp that it is.

S&C: I hate when people tell me to “Say something funny!” Help me out:
What do you say when people ask you to say something funny?
Or are you always funny, so no one has to ask?

J.S: I do hate to say it, but I am very often funny. Some of it’s just my voice. So barring, gaining a silly accent or cadence like mine, I would just reply, “Well, I’m more of an insult comic, and I don’t want to ruin your night.” That should shut them right up.


The heavy-hitters in the cast include Drew Droege, Sam Pancake, Daniele Gaither, Leslie-Anne Huff, Ryan Garcia, Angela Cristantello, and Mr. Sayre himself. New guest stars will appear each week, including Jack Plotnick, Alec Mapa, Jonathan Lisecki, Michael Shepperd, and Nadya Ginsberg.

photos by Brian Carpender

Ravenswood Manor
Celebration Theatre
Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave. in Hollywood
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on November 24, 2019
for tickets, call 323.957.1884 or visit Celebration

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