Saturday, May 2, 2020

73. CAMILLE. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Jack Mallory, Black-Eyed Susan, Bill Vehr, Charles Ludlam, Robert Beers, Lola Pashalinski.
"In Lieu of Reviews"

For background on how this previously unpublished series—introducing all mainstream New York shows between 1970 and 1975—came to be and its relationship to my three The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage volumes (covering every New York play, musical, revue, and revival between 1920 and 1950), please check the prefaces to any of the earlier entries beginning with the letter “A.” See the list at the end of the current entry.

CAMILLE [Dramatic Revival] A: Alexander Dumas; AD/D: Charles Ludlam S: Bobjack Calejo; C: Mary Brecht; L: Richard Currie; P: Ridiculous Theatrical Company; T: Evergreen Theatre (OB); 5/13/74-10/27/74 (113)

The Off-Off Broadway troupe known as the Ridiculous Theatrical Company produced two plays during the first of their regular Off-Broadway seasons: Camille and Hot Ice. Unlike the latter and others in their repertoire, the troupe offered here a revival of a familiar play (10 20th-century revivals prior to this one) not written by their own leader, Charles Ludlam, although he was responsible for the adaptation. As expected, the show was not like any conventional revival.

Camille (a.k.a. La Dame aux Camelias or The Lady of the Camelias) had been done by the company in an earlier Off-Off version and was scarcely changed for this mounting. Ludlam himself played the role of Marguerite Gautier (Camille) in drag, in addition to his other production duties. He wore the frilly garments of the languishing, tubercular, 19th-century courtesan-heroine but made no attempt to hide his hairy chest. Gender-role switching, a frequent Ludlam device, was used within an interpretation that tried to be both a spoof of the original and a bathetic experience at the same time.

Clive Barnes, who called it “one of the most hilarious and unbuttoned camp evenings in New York,” also pointed to its ability to draw tears. Barnes noted the constant sense of the material being played straight while also subject to various grotesqueries of behavior and intonation. Ludlam’s drag impersonation typified this approach.

“Now this is no ordinary drag act played for laughs. . . . He is a completely convincing Camille. . . . He plays every scene with total sincerity—but that sincerity is occasionally punctuated by what might be called subtitles of humor,” Barnes reported. John Simon, as was often the case, stood at the opposite end of the critical spectrum. He abominated the show as “the very essence of a drag show.” “Ludlam and his campy crew are funny at times, but in a destructive, unwholesome way. One hates oneself for laughing at Marguerite being travestied by a short, stocky, homely man in drag, who is outrageous even when . . . he is playing it . . . straight.”

Others on hand included Bill Vehr as Armand Duval, Lola Pashalinski as Prudence Duvernoy, Black-Eyed Susan as Olympe de Taverney, and John D. Brockmeyer as Baron de Varville.

Previous entries:

Abelard and Heloise
Absurd Person Singular
“Acrobats” and “Line”
The Advertisement/
All My Sons
All Over
All Over Town
All the Girls Came Out to Play
Alpha Beta
L’Amante Anglais         
American Gothics
And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little       
And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers
And Whose Little Boy Are You?
Anna K.
Anne of Green Gables
Any Resemblance to Persons Living or Dead
As You Like It
The Au Pair Man

Baba Goya [Nourish the Beast]
The Ballad of Johnny Pot
Barbary Shore
The Bar that Never Closes
The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel
The Beauty Part
The Beggar’s Opera
Behold! Cometh the Vanderkellens
Be Kind to People Week
Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill
Bette Midler’s Clams on a Half-Shell Revue
Black Girl
Black Light Theatre of Prague
Black Picture Show
Black Sunlight
The Black Terror
Black Visions
Les Blancs
Blasts and Bravos: An Evening with H,L. Mencken
Blue Boys
Bob and Ray—The Two and Only
Boesman and Lena
The Boy Who Came to Leave
A Breeze from the Gulf
Brief Lives
Brother Gorski
Bullshot Crummond
The Burnt Flower Bed
Button, Button
Buy Bonds, Buster

The Cage