BWW Review: Everett Quinton is a Master of The Ridiculous in Charles Ludlam's CONQUEST OF THE UNIVERSE or WHEN QUEENS COLLIDE
To watch New York stage treasure Everett Quinton engaged in his classic brand of silliness - or, to be more accurate, ridiculousness - is just as fulfilling a cultural experience as watching a great tragedian immersed in a dramatic Shakespearean role.
The broad physicality achieving preposterous solo tableaus, the vocal inflections finding the perfectly cliched pitches and rhythms to caress its campy dialogue. To call it overacting would be far too simplistic, not to mention inaccurate. This is fine theatrical art that must be seen to be fully appreciated.
Fortunately, the opportunity to see Everett Quinton make a feast of both text and scenery can be currently indulged upon at La MaMa E.T.C.'s Ellen Stewart Theatre, where he both directs and stars in a new production of Charles Ludlam's CONQUEST OF THE UNIVERSE or WHEN QUEENS COLLIDE.
Ludlam, of course, was the groundbreaking playwright/actor/director who, in 1967, created the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, which presented his grandly gothic pastiches of classic literature, Hollywood movies, pop culture and grand opera, most prominently in their basement home at One Sheridan Square, the former location of Café Society.
After Ludlam was lost to AIDS in 1987, Quinton, his life partner and frequent co-star, has been spending much of his career carrying on his legacy and the traditions of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company.
CONQUEST OF THE UNIVERSE was one of his earliest plays, borrowing plot points from Christopher Marlowe's TAMBERLAINE THE GREAT and filtering them through the splendor of low-budget sci-fi flicks. The complicated plot has Marlowe's title character (a diabolical Grant Neale) holding the title of President of Earth and determined to build a solar systemic empire by conquering the kings and queens of nearby planets and gathering sex slaves along the way.
Quinton doubles as Zabina, the doomed Queen of Mars, and her twin brother Cosroe, King of Mercury, who the galaxy is depending on to defeat the mad Earthling.
Amidst the parade of orgiastic romps, bad puns, epic battles and, at one point, a torch song delivered by Earth's neglected First Lady (divinely dragged up Brian Belovitch), standout moments are provided by Jeanne Lauren Smith as a maid who indulges in lengthy and hilarious death scenes, Geraldine Dulex as the insatiable Queen of Venus, and John Gutierrez as the Ballerina of Uranus, who performs a burlesque routine garbed in gold lame.
Though delightfully silly, the production is not without its problems. Clocking in at nearly two hours without an intermission, the antics lose a bit of steam at times. And while Ramona Ponce's crazy costumes, Robert Savina's set pieces (highlighted by large planets hanging from the ceiling) and Christopher Weston's lights make for fun visuals, the huge playing space combined with arena seating saps any chance of intimacy from the evening and the comedy often gets swallowed up when having to view it from a great distance.
But these are minor setbacks compared with the treat of seeing this type of theatre packaged by one of the artists who was so instrumental in developing it. The chance to see Everett Quinton in his element is not to be missed.