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Sublimely ridiculous: before Saturday Night Live, before Bette Midler, before drag went mainstream, Charles Ludlam broke all the rules.

Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam

* By David Kaufman

* Applause Press

* $29.95

With a blend of exacting scholarship wide-eyed admiration, theater critic David Kaufman recounts the life of the incomparable Charles Ludlam, whose Ridiculous Theatrical Company productions at One Sheridan Square--most of them written by, directed by, and starting Ludlam himself--were fixtures of the New York scene from 1967 until Ludlam's death from AIDS complications 20 years later.

Charismatic and eccentric, Ludlam resisted definitions like "avant-garde" or "gay theater," insisting that the moment you accept a label, "you have no real interaction with the culture." His fame, nevertheless, rests on his drag performances, most notably in Camille (1973), Galas (1983), and his masterpiece, The Mystery of Irma Vep (1984), for which he performed two roles simultaneously onstage by standing in a doorway and wearing a two-sided costume.

The Ridiculous audience, having come to expect raucous irreverence, sometimes failed to appreciate Ludlam's more serious work, like the layered, self-referential Stage Blood (1974), in which a small theatrical company mounts a production of Hamlet in the provinces. Over the course of the play, the actors begin to merge with the characters they are depicting while at the same time weaving in autobiographical details from the Ridiculous's Eastern European tour--a dazzling, kaleidoscopic effect.

Ludlam's 29 plays were collected in a single volume in 1989. Now Kaufman's elegant study reveals the links between the playwright's life and his work and underscores Ludlam's continuing artistic legacy.
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Author:Marler, Regina
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Nov 26, 2002
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