(photo credit: Theo Cote )

CONQUEST OF THE UNIVERSE OR WHEN QUEENS COLLIDE – which marked the birth of the The Ridiculous Theatrical Company (RTC), co-founded by the late groundbreaking playwright and performer Charles Ludlam in 1967 – has returned on the occasion of the play and the company’s 50th anniversary with a production, starring and directed by Everett Quinton, a long-standing member of RTC who assumed leadership as Artistic Director when Mr. Ludlam died 30 years ago in 1987.

The show, originally performed in 1987, packed with their signature bawdy humor and pop cultural references, is inspired by Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great. It’s a futuristic tale of war across the universe. Tamburlaine, President of Earth, proceeds from planet to planet, capturing and enslaving Bajazeth and Zabina-King and Queen of Mars-Venus, and Natolia, Queen of Saturn, among others. Cosroe-a Martian prince and twin brother of Zabina-leads the rebel forces against Tamberlaine in Ludlam’s mind-bending experimental classic.

While I found myself losing track at times of the plot, I marveled at the command of the performances from both the newbies and veteran RTC actors. The hard-working (and often hard cast — at least the men) includes: Everett Quinton, Géraldine Dulex,Beth Dodye Bass, Grant Neale, Jeanne Lauren Smith, John Gutierrez, Lenys Samá, Sommer Carbuccia, Shane Baker, Brian Belovitch & Eugene the Poogene. Quinton, with over 40 years in the theatre, hasn’t lost a beat as a performer, and all actors, often playing multiple roles, rise to the occasion, literally, of the fast-paced, over the top sight gags and more.

The play embodies Mr. Ludlam’s core belief, and the mandate for The Ridiculous Theatrical Company:  that every play/production was an experiment.  According to Mr. Quinton, even Ludlam’s breakout ‘commercial’ success – THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP, a long-running hit at the Sheridan Square Theatre – was totally abstract and as such, an experiment. I recall seeing this production years ago, and it was memorable and began my interest in their work.  Mr. Quinton adds that RTC and its trademark outlandishness resulted as a reaction to the cultural upheaval of the 50’s and 60’s and the perceived Fascism during that time. “There was much to rage at in the 60’s,” Mr. Quinton states.  “And the theater of rage often made good company with the high comedy.”

The set of CONQUEST OF THE UNIVERSE featured colorful suspended planets, and the lighting created a sense of intrigue. The costumes were creative and out of the box, and the vastness of the space worked well, yet lent itself to a sense of intimacy.

CONQUEST OF THE UNIVERSE isn’t indeed for everyone, but RTC remains true to their mission and delivers as promised.  Rubber dildos, drag queens, orgies and all….this campy show packs a satirical hard-on that would please any diehard Ridiculous Theatre Company fan, of which there are plenty.  And, while I was honestly not a enamored with this production, it certainly was escapist, and there’s something to be said for that.

The show is presented by La MaMa in association with Howl Arts at the Ellen Stewart Theatre in Manhattan and runs through November 19th.  Visit