Interview: Everett Quinton in “Galas”

I have had the great pleasure of directing Ridiculous Theatre legend Everett Quinton twice, in the New York premiere of Tennessee Williams’s Now the Cats with Jewelled Claws and a staged reading of Charles Ludlam’s Medea. The Williams play got some terrific reviews, which you can read here (and you can see some lovely photos here). Charles Ludlam was perhaps the greatest playwright to come out of the Ridiculous Theatre movement, and Everett was his partner in art and life.

Now Quinton is directing and playing the lead role in Ludlam’s fictionalized tribute to opera diva Maria Callas, entitled Galas, in its first New York revival since its original 1983 run. I sat down with this humble genius to talk about it.

So how did this revival of Galas come about?

It was suggested last fall. I’ve been working with the Yorick Theatre Company. Chris Johnson, who is the Artistic Director of Yorick, talked with Pastor Mark Erson who is the Artistic Director of Theatre at St. John’s Church on Christoper Street, where Yorick performs. They came up with the idea of doing Galas – because of the Stonewall 50th anniversary and World Pride – suggested it to me and I said “good.”

Is this a role you’ve wanted to do?

Yeah, people over the years have suggested it, but there was never the opportunity to do it. Now that it has, I’d be a fool to say no; its a terrific part. I’m having fun with it. When you’re directing it and you’re in it, like I am with this, there are so many pots on the stove. But now me and the other actors are starting to cook! [Laughs] I love the actors in this group, they’re a wonderful group and we’re finding our way.

There’s humor in everything Charles wrote, but am I right in thinking this is one of his more serious plays?

It does play as more serious, yes. That’s the beauty of it. It starts out one way and it flips midway, which is not accidental on Charles’s part. You carefully study the script and he sets up the flip early on. I’m really enjoying exploring that. When I was in the original production, for which I also did the costumes, I didn’t worry about the big picture. So that’s a joy of this production for me. It’s around this time that Charles blossoms from a good writer into a really fabulous one, so skillful. We all improve as we go along, right?

Funny thing is, this big play was originally supposed to be a two-hander for me and him, about an actress and her maid. I don’t know what was going on at the time that provoked him to turn it into a life of Maria Callas. Because usually that’s the way he worked, something in the air tweaked him.

I know this is fictionalized – she’s named Galas not Callas – but I recall that it actually tracks pretty closely with Callas’s life.

Pretty closely, except there’s a couple of things I couldn’t make sense of and then I realized that’s the fictionalized part. I thought I knew from the original production that the last act takes place in Paris – and it doesn’t [Laughs], that’s the fictional part. But it is a close tribute, and I’m using her speaking voice. All of the scene changes are her singing.

I love that Callas demanded a dollar more than all her contemporaries – she would say “so-and-so’s getting so much so I want a dollar more.” I love her arrogance, and when you realize who those contemporaries were, you realize oh my God she had cojones, she had ovaries. [Laughs]

Are you an opera fan yourself?

A fan, yeah. I have no intellectual conceptions about it, I just love it. Tony Randall called it the greatest of art forms, which is arguable. Those singers just do so many wonderful things. I mean I walk around the apartment pretending to be one. When I got the costumes for the original production, I had a decent budget and I found this beautiful green dress for Charles to wear as Galas. But when I first got it home, I wore it and went around the apartment pretending I was soprano Shirley Verrett [Laughs]. So I’m a lip synch opera queen. Charles liked opera but there were bigger opera queens in the company and our chatter could annoy him. I called it “gay baseball,” we talk about opera and musicals like straight guys talk about baseball.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: The Artificial Jungle

Ridiculous Theatre legend Charles Ludlam’s The Artificial Jungle is essential queer theatre viewing – and one hell of a lot of fun. The late, great Ludlam founded the Ridiculous Theatrical Company 50 years ago, creating a singular style of campy but rigorously structured theatre committed to outrageousness without apology, but also without any kind of knowing wink.

Jungle was Ludlam’s final play and mercilessly yet lovingly parodies film noir. As was often his wont, Ludlam turned to an older and more sturdily built model, Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin – a tale filled to bursting with lust, murder and horror – for the plotting. For the dialogue, however, he takes film noir‘s “hard-boiled” schtick, turns the heat all the way up and lets the whole thing boil over.

The director for this production is Ludlam’s husband and muse, Everett Quinton (whom I have had the great pleasure of working with several times). Everett is the ideal interpeter of Ludlam’s plays, knowing when to be loyal to what Charles had already done, and when to push things even further into preposterousness to keep it fresh.

Quinton has a marvelous cast to work with, who seem to truly get it. David Harrell takes on the role Ludlam wrote for himself, Chester Nurdiger, the schlubby, happless owner of a New Yawk pet shop, and Harrell gleefully puts the “nerd” in Nurdiger. Alyssa H. Chase plays his frustrated housewife Roxanne with energetic and angular vampiness. Hunky Anthony Michael Lopez takes Quinton’s role, Zachary, an interloping hired hand, which he delivers with muscular intelligence. Anita Hollander takes the one-time drag role of Mother Nurdiger, and puts it across with an appropriately drag-sized performance. Rob Minutoli has terrific comic timing in the small role of Officer Spinelli.

A key part of the action is a tankful of piranhas, which designer Vandy Wood has crafted with the obvious theatricality that is such an important part of the Ridiculous aesthetic, and which puppetmaster Satoshi Haga imbues with surprising expressiveness and personality. Hilarious, and highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: The Mystery of Irma Vep

mystery-of-irma-vep  robert-sella-left-and-arnie-burton-in-the-

This is easily Ridiculous Theatre legend Charles Ludlam’s most-produced play, and the fantastic production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre richly demonstrates why. The Mystery of Irma Vep is an affectionate parody of horror stories and thrillers from Shakespeare to Alfred Hitchcock. From the secret crypts of Egypt, where mummies cast enthralling charms, to the murky moors of Mandacrest Mansion, where werewolves and vampires are constantly creeping around, this highly theatrical spoof, if done well – as it is here – is truly astonishing.

On the most fundamental level, it’s really important that somebody is doing a full-scale revival of a play by Charles Ludlam in New York City. The Ridiculous Theatrical Company was one of the most profoundly influential queer theater companies of the last half-century and Ludlam was the playwright, leading actor and driving force behind that Greenwich Village institution.

But there is something else that makes this a really authentic wonder. Ludlam wrote this two-hander for himself and his lover Everett Quinton, as an expression of their love for the theatre, and each other. Quinton, who continued running the RTC for ten years after Ludlam passed, is directing this production, filling it with truly “Ridiculous”detail, as well as a surprising amount of warmth and romanticism.

Irma Vep is, above all, a tour de force for two actors who have to do insane amounts of costume and character changes, some of which are nearly instantaneous. Robert Sella and Arnie Burton are ideally suited for this show, with technique to spare, and a willingness to go to the very limits of camp without ever leaving their character behind.

I’ve directed Everett as an actor on two separate occasions, and came away from both experiences learning so much from him about the making of theatre, Ridiculous and otherwise. So I am not at all surprised that a Ludlam classic directed by him (with two sensational actors) is easily one of the best shows in town, certainly the funniest. Highly, highly recommended – this is truly essential theatregoing.

For tickets, click here.

Ronald Tavel’s “Kitchenette” – directed by me – is TOMORROW!

Kitchenette

I am directing – for one night only, TOMORROW, Sunday, March 24 7pm –  Kitchenette by Ronald Tavel, one of the first “ridiculous theater” plays ever! Adapted from Tavel’s scenario for the Andy Warhol film “Kitchen”, Kitchenette hilariously spoofs the making of an avant-garde movie. Tickets available here.

The cast:

Charles SchickCharles Schick (Filmmaker) recently acted in and co-directed Tennessee Williams’s In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel with Regina Bartkoff at 292 Theatre/Gallery in NYC where their paintings and drawings are currently on display. Even more recently (last week) he appeared as the Khoregos opposite Everett Quinton in a staged reading of Charles Ludlam’s Medea directed by Jonathan Warman at the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble. Other recent credits include The Strangest Kind of Romance and Now the Cats with Jewelled Claws, both part of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival.

Wayne HenryWayne Henry (Mikie) is thrilled to be working with Jonathan Warman again. Under Jonathan’s direction, Wayne has most notably toured Provincetown, Mississippi & Tennessee in Tennessee Williams’s The Strangest Kind of Romance. Last year, Wayne appeared as Leonard in Theater 292’s critically acclaimed In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel with Regina Bartkoff and Charles Schick, and his play JAWS: the Musical was remounted to great reviews at The Broadway Comedy Club. His original short films are available at YouTube.com/HenryAndStein.

Tatiana GombergTatiana Gomberg (Jo) is thrilled to be working with these awesome people on this zany piece! She has performed Off and Off-Off Broadway as well as regionally and internationally. Her work in The Night of Nosferatu garnered her an NYIT award nomination for Best Featured Actress and her portrayal of a drone pilot in Hummingbirds earned her a Best Actress Nomination through the Planet Connections Awards. She also played leads in two seasons of classics at Theatre 1010 and toured the United States with TheatreworksUSA. tatianagomberg.com.

Nicholas GorhamNicholas Gorham (Joe) is a graduate of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts and has been performing in New York since the early part of the Century. After crossing the Canadian border, Nicholas had an awakening that theatre could exist without limitations and began to create his own work in the downtown Performance Art scene. Credits include The Goddess Ianna in Justin Bond Re:Galli Blonde (A Sissy Fix), Big Art Group’s Fleshtone and Nicholas Gorham: “One Drop Passing” at La MaMa, E.T.C. In 2011, Nicholas founded The Spectrum, a queer performance, rehearsal and art space in Brooklyn.

Regina BartkoffRegina Bartkoff (Mikey) recently appeared as the Nurse opposite Everett Quinton in a staged reading of Charles Ludlam’s Medea directed by Jonathan Warman at the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble. She acted and co-directed with Charles Schick in In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel by Tennessee Williams at 292 Theatre. She played the role of Bea in Now the Cats with Jewelled Claws in the 2011 Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival and at La MaMa. Regina has played lead roles in Anna Christie, Savage in Limbo and Medea at 292 Theatre.

face 2Jonathan Warman (Director) New York Theatre: New York premiere of Tennessee Williams’s Now the Cats with Jewelled Claws (La MaMa ETC, featuring Mink Stole and Everett Quinton), Andru’s Head (new musical, featuring Brooke Elliott (Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva”), NeoNeo Theatre), American Fabulous (NeoNeo Theatre). International: Dreams Reoccurring (Clubul CFR, Iasi, Romania; Nu Festival, Timisoara, Romania), Break (Dublin Gay Theatre Festival). Regional: Heads (Omaha Magic Theatre), The Strangest Kind of Romance (Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival; Omnova Theater, Columbus, Mississippi; Theatre Sewanee, Tennessee). Notable assistant credits: Stage Directors & Choreographers Society 50th Anniversary Gala (Assistant to SDC Board President Karen Azenberg), Three Sisters (La MaMa ETC, dir. Richard Schechner). Proud member of SDC. He has served as Artistic Director of NeoNeo Theatre Company. For more info, see jonathanwarman.com.