by Steve Nardoni
This year on May 15, at a celebration of the Fiftieth anniversary of the Ridiculous Theatre, Everett Quinton, who assumed leadership as Artistic Director when founder Charles Ludlam died in 1987, said “I like to do the early plays because they are the most extreme…to me they’re the most fun”.
True to his word, Quinton chose to reprise Conquest this year, which is also 50 years old . In 1967 this cemented the Ridiculous Theatre’s commitment to a long run of exaggerated, absurd, experimental, abstract, over-the-top , cross-dressing, and gay-themed plays. At the talk-back at the performance I attended, Quinton confirmed that the productions were “by people on drugs, for people on drugs”. He also pointed out that the 60’s were a time of oppression, and that many of the themes in the show are pertinent today.
On the stage we are greeted by 9 planets in suspension and a screen of interplanetary swirls confirming that we are heading into a story of the Universe. A note to the script declares the story is “A Tragedy” and Conquest does have some tragic moments but all are superseded by the cosmic comedy and the ribald “ridiculousness” of the play. And what fun the players had!
Tamburlaine, President of Earth, (an inexhaustible Grant Neale) has just conquered Mars and he and his First Lady (a stunning Brian Belovich) are gloating over the vanquishing of Bazazeth, King of Mars (Lenys Sama). So starts the rapacious conquests of the planets in a vehicle where Ludlum used classic modes of theater while pulling them through absurd plots, dialogue, and things contemporary to the ‘60’s but pointedly relevant today.
While Tamburlaine is conquering, we get to enjoy Cosroe (Everett Quinton), brother of the Queen of Mars, Zabina (Everett Quinton) eating out Venus, the Queen of Venus, (Geraldine Dulex) while Magnavox, King of Mercury (eugene the poogene) fucks her. Quinton also plays Zabina and his energy keeps the twin roles vibrant. He was particularly funny channeling Ann Landers’ lateral lisp (yes the Ann Landers who hawked Piccadilly Circles on TV in the ‘60’s with lines like “Picadilly Shircles – a hot hearty meal on an englisshhhh muffin…”).
Ludlum throws in everything but the kitchen sink and this game ensemble of actors runs with it. Natalia, Queen of Saturn (Beth Dodye Bass) speaks in Middle English to Techellus ((a droll Shane Baker) and then blithely uses “motherfucker.” Her maid Ebea (Jeanne Lauren Smith) exits with the Jimmy Durante sign off “Good night Mrs. Kalabash (sic) wherever you are.” Bajazeth, King of Mars is continually buggered by Tamburlaine, Techellus describes a tropical paradise called Miami and even Conquest of the Universe or When Queens Collide gets a mention (“Filth! The insane ravings of a degenerate mind!”) . There are witches, firewomen, dogs of War, Hunger, and Pestilence, a vampy song to the Conqueror, incongruous dialogue (“I need a cigarette. Listen to me, you cocksucker, I’ve got to have a butt or I’ll drop dead”) , boas, Jews, Hitler Youth and a hilariously long death throe from John Guiterrez as the Ballerina of Uranus.
Occasionally the humor fell flat but the cast’s manic energy kept the production alive. And the play did end with tragedy and death but not without a cogent, and funny delivery system that unabashedly embraced pan sexual ferocity and provided pure distraction from the darkness of our times.
Photos: Theo Cote
Conquest of the Universe or When Queens Collide is written by Charles Ludlam, directed by Everett Quinton and produced by La MaMa in association with Howl Arts. With Everett Quinton, Géraldine Dulex, Beth Dodye Bass, Grant Neale, Jeanne Lauren Smith, John Gutierrez, Lenys Samá, Sommer Carbuccia, Shane Baker, Brian Belovitch & Eugene the Poogene. Presented at the Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 East 4th Street, NYC.