By Donna Herman
The 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall uprising has gotten a lot of attention in NYC during Pride Month – which, after all, is held in June every year to commemorate that event. Reviving a Charles Ludlam/Ridiculous Theatrical Company work seems like it would be a no-brainer to include in the festivities. Ludlam’s body of work from the late ‘60’s to the late 80’s pushed the boundaries of comedy by using wild exaggeration, cross-dressing and pointed satire, but he resisted labels like “camp” or “avant-garde.” He not only wrote the plays, but most often starred in them (in drag) and directed them as well. Openly gay, his death in 1987 marked the first front page obituary by The New York Times to mention a death from AIDS.
Galas (rhymes with Callas – as in Maria) is a spoof of an opera diva who becomes famous in Italy and has an affair with a Greek shipping magnate. Unfortunately, there’s a fine line between stylized and stultifying that the first revival of this Ludlum work since it was produced in 1968 fails to walk successfully. Directed by and starring Everett Quinton, Ludlam’s life-partner, the current production playing as part of the Theatre at St. John’s celebration of the spirit and legacy of Stonewall, serves more to bury Ludlam’s legacy than resurrect it.
The main problem is that the production is wildly uneven. Not many people can both direct and star in the same theatrical piece – you can’t watch and perform at the same time. It’s easier with film when you can roll back tape and see what you’ve got. What something feels like from the stage and what it feels like from the audience are two completely different animals. I’m afraid that Quinton has bitten off more than he can chew here. His performance as Maria Magdalena Galas is good if not stellar. However, the piece needs a strong directorial hand which is sorely lacking.
Comedy is very serious business and can’t be undertaken with anything less than precision, great skill and impeccable timing if it is to be effective. And exaggerated satire like Ludlam’s requires a level playing field in all its parts – performance and production alike. Anything less and it comes across as amateurish. In this case, the uneven performances of the cast, the stumbling pace, confusing lighting and awkward staging could not be overcome by the charming sets by Jim Boutin and the laughs that Jenne Vath’s wild characterization of the servant Bruna delivered with every appearance on stage.
Galas By Charles Ludlam, Directed by Everett Quinton
WITH: Everett Quinton (Maria Magdalena Galas); Beth Dodye Bass (Giovanni Baptista Mercanteggini); Jenne Vath (Bruna Lina Rasta); Mark Erson (Aristotle Plato Socrates Odysseus/Statuesque Beauty/Franco Cogliones); Maude Lardner Burke (Athina Odysseus/Waiter); Geraldine Dulex (Hure Von Hoyden/Ticket Seller/Prelate); Shane Baker (Pope Sixtus Vii/Ghingheri/Sailor); Chris Johnson (Ilka Winterhalter/Fritalini)
Costume Design by Ramona Ponce; Set Design by Jim Boutin; Lighting & Sound Design by Robert Neapolitan; Stage Management by Karen Oughtred; Graphic Design by Eric Mueller; Press Representative, Glenna Freedman Public Relations. Presented by Theatre at St. John’s in association with Yorick Theater at St. John’s Church, 81 Christopher Street, NYC. Performances through June 28th. For tickets visit https://galas.brownpapertickets.com/.