Celebrating their 50th season, The Ridiculous Theatrical Company stages Conquest of the Universe or When Queens Collide by its founder, Charles Ludlam. Directed by Everett Quinton, this production pays homage to Charles Ludlam and the experimental nature of ridiculous theatre. It is an outlandish tribute to the marriage of absurd physical comedy with slang-infused Shakespearean language. While this ridiculous comedy is not for everyone, I think it can certainly be appreciated for its experimental quality and eccentric energy.
Reflecting Marlowe’s Tamberlaine, Conquest of the Universe or When Queens Collide follows Tamberlaine (Grant Neale), President of Earth, as he sets out to conquer the kings and queens of other planets. As he builds his empire, events that can only be described as ridiculous occur. Bajazeth (Lenys Sama), King of Mars, is Tamberlaine’s favorite concubine, while Zabina (Everett Quinton), Queen of Mars, is put to death. Venus (Geraldine Dulex), Queen of Venus, is captured in the midst of a foursome with Zabina’s brother, Cosroe (Everett Quinton), King of Mercury, Magnavox (eugene the poogene), and Caliph of Jupiter, Ortygius (John Gutierrez). Cosroe runs away and goes mad even though the others are counting on him to defeat Tamberlaine. In addition to that are several side plots – among them are Alice (Brian Belovitch), First Lady of Earth, tries to gain Tamberlaine’s favor, a guard, Techellus (Shane Baker), develops feelings for Zabina, and Natolia (Beth Dodye Bass), Queen of Saturn, plots against Zabina. And still, there is more.
I often found myself wondering what the hell was going on, the plot feels hardly traceable among the pastiche and the absurdity. Some of the humor is of a different era, and I am certain that there were some pop culture references that flew right over my head. Yet, the beauty of the work is that it takes itself so seriously that you know it’s supposed to be hilarious and ridiculous. While I didn’t find it gut-busting funny, I did find it amusing and, without question, ridiculous.
The cast members are a mix of The Ridiculous Theatre Company veterans and new comers. They are delightful to watch because they are committed to the comedy, and I bet they are having the time of their lives. Jeanne Lauren Smith, who plays Ebea – a maid, dies a thousand deaths, and watching her die never gets tiring. Brian Belovitch is everything I could possibly want in a drag performance. Beth Dodye Bass has a commanding presence and her delivery is constantly flawless. Geraldine Dulex creates an airy and sensual Venus. Grant Neale, Lenys Sama and Everett Quinton stand out with their exceptional command of the ridiculous. As an ensemble they are perfectly cast.
Part of the comedy is that several actors play more than one part. Sommer Carbuccia has the most costume changes as he plays several smaller parts, and he does them all distinctively well. Everett Quinton plays a twin brother and sister. John Gutierrez and eugene the poogene also play several parts.
Ramona Ponce’s costume design is an incredible spectacle. The costumes are colorful, eccentric and bizarrely functional. From armor made out of CDs to full metallic body suits to tubing and seaweed hair – a drag queen’s dress with a literal train for a train. Cricket Epstein’s oversized props were well coordinated with the rest of the design. The scenic design by Robert Savina has a grandiose appeal with giant planets and a lot of open space to be filled by the characters and loud set pieces.
While the motifs are constantly shifting, and it is sometimes hard to follow the finer points of 60s pop culture references, the actors are clearly having a blast performing and interacting with the design elements. It’s ridiculous and incredible to watch. Truthfully – it’s not for everyone. I didn’t love it, but I sure can appreciate it.
Conquest of the Universe or When Queens Collide¸ La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, Ellen Stuart Theatre 66 East 4th Street. Closes November 19th.