Conquest… is also significant since it marks the birth of Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company, when, during rehearsals of the play as directed by John Vaccaro, Ludlam and five other actors stormed out and formed their own company. Since Vaccaro still controlled the rights to putting on the play (and he did), Ludlam was reduced to staging it under a different name: hence, its alternate title, When Queens Collide, which itself referred to the feud between Ludlam and Vaccaro.
Based primarily on Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great, Ludlam’s version recasts the real-life Mongolian conqueror as Tamberlaine (Grant Neale), President of Earth, determined to take over the universe, beginning with Bajazeth (Lenys Samá), King of Mars, and his wife Zabina (Quinton).
In lieu of the anarchy of the original production, Quinton’s staging presents a knowing and controlled performance, giving a semblance of sanity to the retelling as Tamberlaine proceeds to take over the Queen of Venus (Géraldine Dulex), Magnavox, King of Mercury (eugene the poogene), Ortygius, Caliph of Jupiter (John Gutierrez), and Natolia, Queen of Saturn (Beth Dodye Bass). (It’s Natolia who speaks Chaucerian English, saying, for example, “Hadde loved hire best of any creature two yeer and moore, as was his aventure.”)
Still more characters–and actors–fill the vast black-box stage space of La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theatre, with large colored orbs or planets hanging above, and Saturn projected on a rear screen, which will come to house many more images. The set designer is Robert Savina, with set decoration by Kevin Fernandez, and the video projections are by Jerry Marsini.
But it’s the costumes, lavishly designed by Ramona Ponce, that frequently take your breath away. As do many of the bawdy scenes, such as when, in the second scene, Venus engages in cunnilingus with Zabina’s brother Cosroe (also played by Quinton) even as she’s being sodomized by Magnavox and receives still more interplanetary travellers in her room.
Played to perfection with an infectious joy by one and all, the entire cast also takes a deadly serious attitude towards their lines and their actions. Indeed Ludlam’s Conquest invokes Hamlet in its final scene, when many of the characters die–even following a previous “gravedigger” scene. And as staged by Quinton, the final “banquet” scene also invokes Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” All I can say is, go and enjoy!
Conquest of the Universe or When Queens Collide (through November 19, 2017)
La MaMa E.T.C.’s Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 East 4th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.lamama.org
Running time: one hour and 50 minutes without an intermission