“Ridiculous theatre”, a tradition of queer theatre born in New York in the 1960s, has its own particular acting style that mixes high camp, high energy, maniacal precision and an almost supernatural conviction. Director John V. N. Philip’s entertaining revival of Camille by Charles Ludlam – Ridiculous theatre’s most accomplished playwright – succeeds best when the actors involved have a command of that vivid, kaleidoscopic acting style.
Ludlam adapted Camille from Alexandre Dumas, fils novel La Dame Aux Camelias as well as lifting liberally from other other versions of the Dumas story, such as Verdi’s opera La Traviata, and George Cukor’s 1936 film Camille starring Greta Garbo. It follows the life of the Marguerite Gautier, a Parisian courtesan suffering from tuberculosis, who falls in love with a provincial young man, Armand Duval.
Marguerite is a tour de force of a role that Ludlam wrote for himself, and any production of his Camille must have a powerhouse in that role. Steve Hayes more than fills the bill, attacking the role with fearless sauciness and breathtaking comic brio. Ludlam reportedly had a sense of danger and moments of sudden deep seriousness in the role; Hayes doesn’t have that, but finds other ways to scale this particular mountain.
A couple of other actors nail the Ridiculous style: Mariah Bonner gives the maid Nanine a New Yawk accent and buckets of insouciance, which works terrifically well. Phil Stoehr plays Olympe de Taverne in high drag style, all plumminess and hauteur, another great success. Bruce-Michael Gelbert even injects a bit of grand opera – by way of La Traviata – into the proceedings. The rest of the company is more uneven. At best, they attempt the Ridiculous, but execute it less expertly; at worst, they perform in an ersatz operetta style that is just all wrong here.
Designer Andrew Loren Resto’s costumes are appropriately over-the-top, but his set sits uncomfortably in the tiny Casa Mezcal stage, and has some pretty bad problems with sight lines. Something simpler but flashier would have been better. Overall, though, this is a mostly successful take on Ludlam, and in any event lots of fun.
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