By Charles Ludlam; Directed by Everett Quinton
In association with Yorick Theater
Off Off Broadway, Revival
Runs through 6.28.19
Theatre at St. John’s, 81 Christopher Street
by Shani R. Friedman on 6.23.19
Everett Quinton, Jenna Vath and Beth Dodye Bass in Galas. Photo by Theo Cote.
BOTTOM LINE: Stage vet Everett Quinton brings back Charles Ludlam's campy homage to singer Maria Callas for the first time, making for a fun addition to the pageantry of Pride Month in New York.
Arriving during the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and going up just across the street from the Stonewall Inn and the Ridiculous Theatre Company’s one-time home on Sheridan Square, GALAS is a goofy, over-the-top, and loving tribute to legendary singer Maria Callas. For some, it's an introduction to the work of Charles Ludlam and his Ridiculous Theatrical Company, a group he founded in 1967. For others, who have followed this group for years, it's a chance to see Everett Quinton's take on Maria Magdalena Galas (first played by Ludlam). Quinton, a longtime member of the Company, performed in the original 1983 production as Galas' off-kilter, dedicated maid (and he also designed the costumes).
The scene is post-Mussolini Verona, where Galas disembarks from the train for a singing engagement, bird cage and small suitcase in tow. There to greet her is Giovanni Baptista Mercanteggini (Beth Dodye Bass), the owner of a brick company. Galas declares that she “is not a music lover. I am a musician. I AM music!” Giovanni is instantly smitten, in short order becoming her benefactor, manager, and husband. And so Giovanni’s maid Bruna Lina Rasta (Jenne Vath) also starts attending to Galas.
Galas's dream is to sing La Traviata at the La Scala opera house, but management (Shane Baker and Chris Johnson) only offers her a guest contract, which deeply offends her. But Galas is also suing a man over his diet pasta, as well as meeting Pope Sixtus VII (Baker again)—the cast dons full Catholic regalia, with a rainbow cross and other Pride flourishes. The Pope is rude and dismissive of Galas, moving his hand when she bends down to kiss it, so that she finally must use a rosary to corral his hand to her mouth. Yet when Galas is finally given the chance to perform at La Scala, her voice won’t cooperate.
Galas then accepts a fateful invitation to join Aristotle Plato Socrates Odysseus (Mark Erson) on his yacht, where his wife Athina (Maude Lardner Burke) and tossed-aside mistress Hüre Von Hoyden (Géraldine Dulex) happen to be as well. But in the end it's Bruna who remains her constant companion when they end up in Paris, after Aristotle has moved on to Jackie Kennedy. The uncompromising, take-no-prisoners Galas is left professionally and personally bereft. One wonders if the real Callas would have fared any better today.
As Galas, Quinton has a commanding stage presence, proudly striding across the stage in Ramona Ponce’s rich, detailed costumes. He’s also very funny, especially in a scene where Galas answers the phone, stepping around an imaginary phone cord. He also lends Galas a note of pathos, fitting for one who is mistreated and disrespected by so many. And Jenne Vath is unforgettable. Early on, Galas tosses a coat on her and Vath just stands there with the fur over her head. From her hair, which looks like she stuck a finger in a socket, to her ghostly makeup and bugged-out eyes, Vath is a riot—nutty and melodramatic.
Jim Boutin’s painted scenery is simple but looks great. Robert Neapolitan gifts us with Maria Callas herself, using her voice during scene changes. I would have liked a little more camp and absurd melodrama. And some of the ensemble are uneven and less polished. But it’s a treat to see GALAS back in New York City, and to see the work of Charles Ludlam and Everett Quinton, true pioneers of New York's LGBTQ theatre scene.
(GALAS plays at the Theatre at St. John’s, 81 Christopher Street, through June 28, 2019. Running time is 2 hours with an intermission. June 13-23: Mondays at 8, and Wednesdays through Sundays at 8, with a matinee on 6/16 at 3. June 24-28: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8. Tickets are $25 and are available at brownpapertickets.com or by calling 212-242-5737. For more information visit stjohnsnyc.org.)
GALAS is by Charles Ludlam. Directed by Everett Quinton. Set Design by Jim Boutin. Lighting and Sound Design by Robert Neapolitan. Costume Design by Ramona Ponce. Stage Manager is Karen Oughtred.
The cast is Everett Quinton, Shane Baker, Maude Lardner Burke, Beth Dodye Bass, Géraldine Dulex, Christopher Johnson, Jenne Vath, and Mark Erson.