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Die Mommie Die! (Off-Broadway)

Charles Busch's cult-favorite comedy receives its first New York production.

Ashley Morris

Age: "I'm very near in age to my character."

Hometown: San Antonio, Texas

Currently: Making her New York stage debut as Edith, the seductive and scheming daughter of Charles Busch's diva-like Angela Arden in Die Mommie Die!

Family Affair: Morris vividly recalls the moment when, at age four, she was first taken by the world of performing. "We were watching The Cosby Show, and my mom explained to me sort of what 'acting' was and I thought, 'Well, I wanna do that. I wanna be Bill Cosby's daughter!'" Years of classes, auditions and school plays notably as the boy Bert in All My Sons followed. "I've been training for this my whole life," the young actress says.

Comedy Roots: After high school, Morris took a year off to join a comedy troupe called "Viva La Vulva!," honing the skills she displays nightly in Die Mommie Die! "We were funny feminists," she explains with a laugh. "I did a lot of writing and sketch comedy. I played a Jewish Barbie—it was very campy. I had a blast." College followed, as Morris landed a spot at North Carolina School of the Arts, alma mater of Mary-Louise Parker, Joe Mantello, Jennifer Ehle and more. "I played Juliet," she says, "and Heidi in The Heidi Chronicles, which is weird because I'd wanted to play Heidi since I was nine."

Master Class: A self-described "huge fan" of Charles Busch's plays, Morris vividly remembers the first time she met the playwright/star, at Die Mommie Die!'s callbacks. "They asked me to go outside of the room and prepare a side," she remembers, "and then when I came back in, Charles was on the stage [as fallen diva Angela Arden] to do the scene! I went to the park across the street afterward and kinda cried a little bit, because he's a comic genius. It was an honor just to audition with him." Rehearsals afforded Morris the opportunity to learn from her hero up close: "I just tried to watch Charles, because I think that's what theater is—you don't learn it from a book, you learn it from observing. He was so generous, helping me with timing and letting me ask him lots of questions."

Evil Edith: In Die Mommie Die!, Morris plays Edith Arden, Busch's sly shrew of a daughter, who teams with her dim-witted brother, Lance Van Hansis, to avenge the apparent murder of their beloved father, Sol Bob Ari. She looked to an unusual source of inspiration in creating the haughty role: "I would watch Gone With the Wind over and over, because there's something very Scarlett O'Hara about Edith, in a warped kind of way. She's also based on Electra, and how she avenges her father's death. It's fun, because I can go absolutely crazy onstage, and it's still within the guidelines of the character. But when it comes down to it, there's something very real about her. She really wants her mother's love."

Mommie Dearest: Dastardly double-crosses, outrageous outfits and an oversized flying suppository all make up the wacky world of Die Mommie Die! Yet Morris and the company manage to find unexpected sincerity in their campy circumstances. "It sounds silly, but we all try to play it for its truth," she says. "The actions of all these characters may seem big, but what they're fighting for is very real to them." Yet she isn't blind to the adoration that acting in a Busch classic brings: "It's thrilling to be onstage when Charles comes out," she says. "Every single night, the audience cheers and claps. It's lovely, because all of us—the actors and the audience—are together in this one night that can never be re-done. That's the magic of theater."

In the Moment: Having graduated from college in May, Morris says she's still "pinching myself" over hitting the New York stage so quickly. "I think there are things that happen in your life and you look back and go, 'Wow, I really wish I had enjoyed that,'" she reflects. "[For me] that's right now. I found a picture of myself the other day. I think I was 15, and I was standing outside next to a street sign that said 'Broadway' on it. To be blessed enough to realize that dream is something I'm thankful for every minute."

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