Last October, three days before writer-performer Gregory Harrison and director Joseph Massa were supposed to take their show Whirlwind! to San Francisco, the theater they’d booked lost its lease, and the two collaborators were left with a gaping hole in their schedule. Luckily, the same day that deal fell apart, a friend called Massa about a space in D.C. they might be interested in. The duo checked out the Church Street Theatre, agreed it was perfect for their playa one-man show in which Harrison plays seven characters, from sorority girl to amateur lesbian meteorologist, before, during, and after a tornado hits their college campusand settled in for what may end up being the longest stop of their tour: 19 weeks and counting.
It hasn’t always been easy. Even before the usual holiday drought almost killed them, Masso and Henderson had to suspend performancesand, in the process, break momentumfor a previous book-in, Quentin Crisp’s one-man show. Because of that single, Whirl-free weekend, audience awareness of the show and ticket sales dipped dangerously. Then there was the initial marketing campaignposters and ads featuring Henderson’s ripped body clad only in tighty-whitieswhich narrowed the show’s potential audience significantly. “When we moved in, we had no idea this theater had this reputation,” Henderson says, referring to Church Street’s recent tradition of housing gay (often explicitly so) plays. “It was good because it brought gay men in, which in the beginning was great to get word of mouth, that initial buzz, going. But,” he emphasizes, “Whirlwind! is not a dick show.”
Indeed, what it is is a miniphenomenon, enduring as long as it has for all the right reasons. “During the evening, a lot of truths are revealed,” Masso says. “Real honesty from Greg that maybe you won’t find anywhere else.” Henderson, a Tasmanian devil of a performer, agrees: “Obviously, most of it’s very autobiographical. And it’s not about just one thing. There are many different issues real to me that I touch upon:…divorce, loneliness, ambition, sexuality,” he says. “And I think that’s what people connect to. There’s so much therethat’s why they come. That, and just our sheer will. Joseph and I, we’re in this theater 16 hours a day, working to get people in.”Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa