REVIEW: Everett Quinton in Charles Ludlam’s “Galas”
As part of its year-long “Rebels, Revolutionaries, and Rowdies” series in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprisings and in celebration of World Pride, the Theatre at St. John’s on Christopher Street in the West Village is presenting the first-ever revival of Charles Ludlam’s 1983 play “Galas: A Modern Tragedy”.
Ludlam, who died of PCP pneumonia a month after receiving an AIDS diagnosis in 1987, founded the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in 1967, and over the course of the ensuing but all-too-brief twenty years created and performed in some thirty plays, most famously “The Mystery of Irma Vep” (1984).
More than a clever name, “ridiculous” was a genre of theatre unto itself, native to downtown but globally influential to the present. Ludlam’s medium was comedy; his métier, camp—low budget queer pop-culture parody as social commentary, employing delicious plays on gender and cross-dressing.
“Galas” (rhymes with Callas) is a paradigmatic entry from the Ludlam canon. Subtitled “a modern tragedy”, this broadly comical play is a travesty of the career and personal life of iconic Greek-American opera singer Maria Callas (1923-1977)—“La Divina” herself.
While Ludlam played the key role of Maria Magdalena Galas in the 1983 premiere, his partner—actor, director, playwright, and downtown staple Everett Quinton—now dons the wigs, heels, and jewels, and does double duty as director.
Act one of “Galas” follows its aging titular character in her quest to become a full company member at La Scala in Milan. She pines and negotiates alongside her dutiful husband and business manager, the brick salesman Giovanni Baptista Mercanteggini (Beth Doyle Bass), and her zany maid, Bruna Lina Rasta (Jenne Vath).
A legal squabble with a pasta company falsely claiming credit for Galas’ weight loss and an audience with a very flamboyant Pope Sixtus VII (Shane Baker) donning ruby red slippers make for lively scenes.
In act two, Galas and Mercanteggini take a tour on the yacht of Aristotle Plato Socrates Odysseus (Mark Erson)—a parody of Aristotle Onassis, who was romantically linked to Callas in the 1970s. Odysseus upends the Galas-Mercanteggini marriage before abandoning Galas for the widow of the American president (sound familiar?).
A final scene finds Galas in her Parisian drawing room, alone and longing for freedom, an artist and singer who gave up her career for love and ultimately takes her own life in an operatic gesture that departs from Callas’ own history.
While few moments are laugh-out-loud funny, the entire enterprise of “Galas” earns a knowing appreciation from its audience. Proudly sporting a poor theatre concept with hand-drawn flats by Jim Boutin as scenery and DIY or else found costumes by Ramona Ponce, this production pays loving homage to the spirit of Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company, giving the audience a sense of what it must have felt like to experience queer underground theatre in a time that could not imagine a TV series like “RuPaul's Drag Race” or a studio film like “Love, Simon”.
Indeed, beyond the charming and off-beat humor of the play, and the chance to see Mr. Quinton in action, the greatest treat of “Galas” is coming in contact with a taste of a New York theatre scene gone by.
Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company was based at One Sheridan Square, a block away from the Theatre at St. John’s, and a lifetime away from the present. No longer the locus of New York’s art scene, the West Village is instead home to finance bros, trendy restaurants, and high end retail shopping.
For all its ridiculousness, “Galas” is a play that reminds you of the joy of play itself and the magic of creation. For those looking to celebrate and authentically experience an important chapter of LGBTQ+ theatre history this Pride month, “Galas” is well worth a visit.
Bottom Line: For the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprisings and in celebration of World Pride, the Theatre at St. John’s presents the first-ever revival of Charles Ludlam’s 1983 play “Galas: A Modern Tragedy”, a broadly comical travesty of the life of iconic opera singer Maria Callas. Downtown staple Everett Quinton (Ludlam’s partner) plays the titular role in a production that harkens back to a time when the West Village was the center of queer underground theatre.
“Galas: A Modern Tragedy”
Theatre at St. John’s
81 Christopher Street
New York, NY 10014
Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes (one intermission)
Opening Night: June 16, 2019
Final Performance: June 28, 2019
All Tickets $25