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Writer and actor Leslie Jordan returns home from the left coast to appear in the Richmond premiere of his autobiographical work.

Hysterically Southern


On Wednesday, April 26, Richmond Triangle Players will open "Hysterical Blindness and Other Southern Tragedies That Have Plagued My Life Thus Far," an autobiographical musical comedy by actor and writer Leslie Jordan. Jordan, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., now lives in Los Angeles, where he has appeared on sitcoms including "Caroline In the City," "Dharma and Greg," "Ellen" and "Murphy Brown." This week, Jordan leaves the big city and heads for Richmond to star in RTP's production of his work. Style Weekly caught up with him to ask a few questions about his Southern sensibilities.

SW: How has the South shaped you?
LJ: Well, I tell you. My theory is this: I know of no place on earth that breeds such rampant lunacy. I'm borrowing that directly from "Hysterical Blindness." "Hysterical Blindness" is basically my journey how, from the time I was a little bitty boy, I wanted to get out. I looked around, and everything was tacky! I just did not want to be in the South. … When I was 6 years old, I had an aunt who died. At the funeral, there was this God-awful flower arrangement. It had a pink plastic phone in the middle, with a gold sparkly receiver off the hook and a banner that said "Jesus called, Lila answered." Everyone thought it was touching. I thought it was tacky. … When you grow up gay, in the Bible belt … It wasn't exactly a picnic on the playground, let's just say that. I tell my friends that someday I'm going back to all those rednecks who teased me and I'm going to tell them to kiss my very rich TV-star ass! The gist of the play is "can we ever escape from whence we came?"

SW: What was it like to arrive in L.A.?
LJ: In 1982, I stepped off a Greyhound bus at the corner of Vine and Fountain in downtown Hollywood. I had a suitcase — a tiny suitcase — and $1,200. I was dumber than dirt and greener than grass. That was the "Where's the Beef?" year. There was a director named Joe Settlemeyer, out of Chicago. He changed that whole scene. ... Up 'til then, you had to look like a model to do commercials. Suddenly, they wanted characters. They wanted white trash. I never did a Joe Settlemeyer commercial, but I did lots of rip-offs. I worked for years and years doing commercials, then finally got an ongoing role on "The Fall Guy." But my big break was on "Murphy Brown," on the pilot season. I played her secretary. It wasn't a big role, but everyone in town saw it. I've been in sitcom hell since then. I've done every God-awful sitcom known to man. I've been the bellhop, the window-washer … I'm not complaining, but I really am hoping this new little film career I'm working on kicks in.

SW: Who's your favorite celebrity you've met out there, and why?
LJ: Probably John Ritter. I did a series called "Hearts of Fire" with John Ritter and Markie Post. I always rate celebrities on the way they treat my family when I work with them. With my mom and my twin sisters, John Ritter would make the biggest fuss over them, rush up and hug them. He's honestly the nicest man I know. I've never seen him lose his temper, I've never seen him raise his voice. Beau Bridges, too. And Delta Burke — who got all that bad press for being a nightmare — is one of the sweetest people I know. And then there's Faye Dunaway. I did a sitcom called "It Had to be You" with Faye Dunaway and Robert Urich. I actually got along with her. You could see the diva behavior, but she paid me the most wonderful compliment. She said, "You are such a wonderful storyteller. You remind me of my dear friend Tennessee Williams." I said, "I can die now."

SW: What are you working on currently?
LJ: Del Shoeres and I started writing together - how long ago? Two years ago. Our third [screenplay] is hitting the market next week. It's called "Grave Situation." We have one called "Miss Fleeta Runs Amok" that has had Bette Midler attached for about a year. We have one called "She's On The Loose," which for the last year has had Courtney Love attached, who's kind of a tough sell.

SW: What made you decide to come to Richmond for "Hysterical Blindness"?
LJ: John Knapp wooed me. He saw the play in New York many years ago and fell in love with it. He has been trying to bring it to Richmond and trying to find someone to play me. You know what? The play just doesn't work without me. It's a vanity piece! It really doesn't. … I decided to do Richmond just because it was in the South and I had some free time. L.A. shuts down when the TV season ends, which is April. In May, June and July, L.A. is a wasteland. It's nice to get

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