Charles Ludlam, according to the "Director's Notes" portion of my program, was the founder of The Ridiculous Theatrical Company in New York in 1967. Ludlam specialized in works that were "freeform and improvisational" and if he spotted a friend in the audience, he was likely to invite him on stage (and, in fact, I noted several local actors in the audience Friday night at the Spotlighters, though none were invited to join the play!).
Ludlam died in 1987 but his spirit was alive and kicking in the Spotlighters' production of "Stage Blood," Ludlam's homage to small theatrical companies, Shakespeare, Hamlet, fathers and sons, and especially that "streak of the irrational" that transforms normal human beings into slightly addled creatures who must--MUST--pretend to be people they are not and to do so before live, paying audiences.
"Stage Blood" has a double meaning--stage blood, that fake red stuff that gets sprayed about the stage, particularly if a Shakespearean tragedy is being performed, but also that special brand of hemoglobin that flows in the veins of actors...those aforementioned irrational folks.
But the double meanings and parallels don't stop there. "Hamlet," Master Thespian-style actor Carlton Stone, Sr. (Frank Vince) declares, "is the greatest of murder mysteries." And it is. Who killed the King? Or has Hamlet, mad with grief, conceived a crime that never took place beyond the parameters of his own fevered brain? But then again, is he really crazy?
When Carlton, Sr. is found in heap over the toilet, blood on the white tile floor, we are faced with another murder mystery--who killed this bombastic, pretentious prince? Was it his wife, Helga (Janise Whelan) who moments later a la Gertrude, declares her plans to marry Edmund (Richard Peck)? Or did Edmund do it in order to gain control of the theater company...Carlton, Sr.'s kingdom as it were?
Carlton, Sr.'s son, Carlton, Jr. (Michael Zemarel), now preparing to play the title role in Shakespeare's Hamlet in a nameless theater in Baltimore (Director Michael Spellman gives the play a local comic touch with stage props and chairs marked "Property of" Center Stage, Fells Point Corner Theater, Vagabond Theater and the Everyman, all staples of Baltimore professional and community theater), seeks out to divine the mystery...just as his character, Hamlet, tries to determine who killed his own father.
Toss in nice turns by April Rejman as Elfie/Oephelia, a young woman determined to embrace the actor's life, and Zemarel as Carlton, Jr./Hamlet; at least one typical Shakespearean twist of mistaken identity, and a lively, absurdist script, and you've got an enjoyable evening's entertainment.
"Stage Blood" is often more silly than it is laugh-out-loud funny, and the performance was slightly uneven as there were more than just one or two incidents of actors walking over each other's lines--in one exchange, two actors actually were speaking at the same time and it was clearly not part of the play. Jeffrey Coleman, who had thrilled Spotlighters audiences earlier this season with his riveting performance of the song, "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" in CABARET (no doubt indicative of his vocal work with the Young Victorian Opera Company and Opera Vivente) might best stick to singing roles as his delivery of lines was often clipped and stilted. Nevertheless, Director Spellman has assembled a fine cast of experienced character actors to portray a fine cast of experienced character actors preparing to play "Hamlet." Funny? Sometimes. Ridiculous? Definitely...but in a good Ludlamesque way.
"Stage Blood" continues its run at The Spotlighters Theatre at 817 Saint Paul Street through December 19th, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. "Stage Blood" runs 2 hours include a 15 minute intermission. Tickets are $20; $18 for Seniors, $16 for Students. Call 410-752-1225 or visit www.spotlighters.org.