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Washington Shakespeare Company Camille, A Tearjerker

By • Sep 3rd, 2009 • Category: Reviews
Camille, A Tearjerker By Charles Ludlam
Washington Shakespeare Company
Clark Street Playhouse, Crystal City, VA
Ticket price varies
Through August 22nd
2:10, with one intermission
Reviewed September 1, 2009

Coming to WSC’s Clark Street Playhouse to see Camille (A Tearjerker): one can find them self anxious to see this rendition of Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company classic. If you do and you are, you won’t be disappointed.

The Director, also Artistic Director of Washington Shakespeare Company, Christopher Henley has managed to capture the ‘Ridiculous’ style (which Ludlam would counter as being a ‘process’ and not a style) which originally featured Ludlam’s near legendary comic performance in the title role. Mr. Henley was also able to modernize the play with a dance club atmosphere with the actors lip sinking the interludes of the story.

Camille was the Ridiculous Theatrical Company’s most popular work. This play best personifies the Ridiculous style. An amalgamation of the Dumas novel and play, more modern music (“Stormy Weather”, brilliantly lipped and acted by Frank Britton as Prudence Duvernoy) and the Garbo film. Taking the fallen woman torn between true love and the fast Parisian life style has opened the door for campy wordplay. The actors gaze at the audience at moments of not-so-poignant playfulness, as if to dare us to respond or react, is a constant throughout this production.

This play falls on the shoulders of Marguerite Gautier, performed by Jay Hardee. Hardee’s performance dares you to accompany his Marguerite into her world of frivolity and bawdiness. Once you do though, you’re trapped as he draws you into her world and her truly emotional struggle between love and lifestyle. You find yourself laughing at all the silliness and in the next moment with a lump in your throat only to be laughing again the next moment. You were superb Jay! A performance, I’m sure, Charles Ludlam would applaud, “Bravo!” and then quip, “Close Girl!”

As mentioned earlier Frank Britton’s performance was truly mesmeric. From his first entrance as the Dressmaker Prudence Duvernoy to his breathtaking torch song to open Act 2 to his final ‘Tearjerker’ embrace with Marguerite. All I can say is, “You had me.”

The rest of the professional cast of: Jay Finley (Armand Duval) was a pleasure. John Kevin Boggs (Baron de Varville), a grin…constantly. John C. Bailey (Nanine, Duval Sr.), Daniel Kenner (Cupid/Joseph/Molnik), Jay Saunders (Nichette Fondue/Gaston Roue’) and Kim Curtis (Venus/Saint Gaudens) were wonderful in this production.

Andrew J. Berry‘s (Scenic Designer) set was a thrust stage with a back lit backdrop. This allowed him to display the Parisian outlines, the bareness of leafless trees and backlit characters. Jennifer Tardiff‘s (Costume Designer) costumes in the true genre of a drag show on a low budget. Kari Ginsburg‘s (Assistant Dircector/Musical Staging) musical staging allowed the viewer gather in all of the “Ridiculous”-ness being thrown at us. David Crandall (Sound Designer), could you crank up the lipped songs a little? I did hear the shuffling of the actors as they moved about the stage. Marianne Meadows (Lighting Designer) was great. She kept us in the mood of each moment and transition. Especially effective through the smoke, whoever had that idea, Henley I imagine, really worked well with your lighting effects.

In closing, let me tell you that on the outside you may believe this style of play is not for you, but I would not miss the chance to see it. If you love theatre, are a student of theatre, or are just a sucker for a good love story, Camille is a play you’ll never forget; a play you won’t see often and a play we all should embrace for its style, its message and its enjoyment. As Charles Ludlam answered the question about some audiences seeing his work as a huge joke, just trashy camping: “They can see it however they like, just come and see it … I dare the audience to have an opinion.” Yes he did and I do. See it!

Director’s Note

Not before this play was first performed, my eye was caught by a headline over an advice column in a newspaper. Dear Abby or Ann Landers was being asked about the concept of “the well-adjusted homosexual.” That was a term of art in those days, sort of like “functioning alcoholic,” the idea behind it being that one ought to expect a gay person to be miserable, self-loathing, and, ultimately, tragic, and one ought to be surprised to encounter a gay person who was not. (The columnist, by the way, opined that she believed that there was no such thing as a well-adjusted homosexual.)

In that climate, it is easy to understand what would have attracted Charles Ludlam to the classic story of the lady of the Camellias. The notorious Marguerite Gautier’s passions and her past define her in the eyes of conventional society. Any attempt by her to move from the margins of society and to hope to achieve happiness and stability with a respectable young man will be thwarted. The constant reinforcement of society’s opprobrium, and her acceptance of the negative self images associated with it, must operate like the disease that ultimately cuts short her life, just as they would for a gay person in the mid-century US. (It’s striking how much gay literature from that era features the archetype of the doomed young man who dies young or simply disappears, eerily presaging the health crisis of the 1980’s.)

Additionally, in the drag subculture, performers and their followers develop cults surrounding artists like Judy Garland and Maria Callas (Ludlam’s other most famous part was in his parody of her life, Gallas), performers whose oversized personas and heightened passions struck even deeper chords because of the public’s awareness of their tortured psyches and unstable romantic lives. With these and other dive-type stars, drag performers found a shared language through which to lament the man who got away and the world to which they were denied entry.

Reading Stefan Brecht’s Queer Theatre, the wonderful chronicle of Ludlam, his colleagues, and his influences, I was struck often by how Ludlam and his Ridiculous Theatrical Company comrades, lacking the resources, or the desire, to create period accuracy museum-piece productions, took cast-off clothes and furniture form the consignment stores or off the streets of New York City to create an illusion of another time and place, always conscious of artificiality of the constructs. This play we perform tonight calls for a delicate balance, as it references styles such as 19th century melodrama and the golden age of Hollywood films, as well as satirical takes on those idioms — which can seem almost like Carol Burnett Show sketches –and in almost Forbidden Broadway-like awareness of the pop culture of the day. (The hit revival on Broadway at the time was No, No Nanette, which becomes the butt of a few of Ludlam’s jokes.)

Gay culture has always driven mass culture (in the US and abroad), and drag culture has often driven gay culture. Much has changed in the 35 years since this play was written. Instead of debates about whether or not same-sex attraction and activity ought to be considered a sickness, we hear debates about whether same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry. The drag subculture, which was very downtown or underground then, is now in the Top 40 and drag even has its own reality competition show on TV. Moreover, since the emergence of the “Club Kid” scene in the late 80’s/early 90’s, nationally known drag performers such as Ongina (who shuns wigs in favor of a shaved head) and Nina Flowers (who fiercely rocks a Mohawk) have evolved from female impersonators to artist who embrace androgyny, moving from gender illusionists to gender confusionists. Our production is aware of these developments in a way that we hope Ludlam might have been were he reviving his production today. One thing about drag remains constant, however. Even as we watch a drag performance, always aware that a man has created an illusion that is the fabulous persona we are watching, we can still be inspired as we watch her move her lips to the sounds of another’s voice and as she navigates the hairpin turns between delicious camp and genuine feeling.

Photo Gallery

Foreground: Jay Hardee, James Finley. Background: Frank Britton, Daniel Kenner, Erin Kaufman, Kim Curtis, Jay Saunders, John C. Bailey, John Kevin Bog Frank Britton, Jay Hardee
Foreground: Jay Hardee, James Finley. Background: Frank Britton, Daniel Kenner, Erin Kaufman, Kim Curtis, Jay Saunders, John C. Bailey, John Kevin Bog
Frank Britton, Jay Hardee
Foreground: Jay Hardee, James Finley, Erin Kaufman, Kim Curtis, Frank Britton, Jay Saunders. Background: John C. Bailey, Daniel Kenner James Finley, Jay Hardee
Foreground: Jay Hardee, James Finley, Erin Kaufman, Kim Curtis, Frank Britton, Jay Saunders. Background: John C. Bailey, Daniel Kenner
James Finley, Jay Hardee

Cast

  • Venus: Miss Kim Curtis
  • Cupid: Mr. Daniel Kenner
  • Baron de Varville: Mr. John Kevin Boggs
  • Nanine: Miss John C. Bailey
  • Marguerite Gautier: Miss Jay Hardee
  • Joseph: Mr. Daniel Kenner
  • Nichette Fondue: Miss Jay Saunders
  • Olympe de Taverne: Miss Erin Kaufman
  • Saint Gaudens: Mr. Kim Curtis
  • Prudence Duvernoy: Miss Frank Britton
  • Gaston Roue: Mr. Jay Saunders
  • Armand Duval: Mr. James Finley
  • Duval Sr.: Mr. John C. Bailey
  • Mulnik: Mr. Daniel Kenner

Crew

  • Director: Christopher Henley
  • Assistant Director/Musical Staging: Kari Ginsburg
  • Scene Designer: Andrew J. Berry
  • Lighting Designer: Marianne Meadows
  • Costume Designer: Jennifer Tardiff
  • Sound Designer: David Crandall
  • Props Designer: Sarah Kamins
  • Stage Manager: Patrick Magill
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Kelly Hennessy
  • Technial Director/Scenic Artist: Julie Roedersheimer
  • Board Operator: Jack Miggins
  • Carpenters: Van Pham, Scott Richards, Julie Roedersheimer, Andrew J. Berry
  • Electricians: Rob Powers, Garth Dolan
  • Production Photography: C. Stanley Photography
  • Graphic Illustrator: Jay Hardee
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has been involved in theatre for over 40 years in the local Washington DC Metro area as well as NYC and London England. Mark has performed at the Dramatist Guild Theatre on Broadway, at The Dorothy Strelsin Theatre Off-Broadway. His credits include work in many local theatres as well: The Folger Theatre Group, Arena Stage, New Playwrights Theatre, 7th Street Players, The Keegan Theatre, The American Century Theatre, The Journeyman Theatre, ASTA Theatre, The Hayloft Dinner Theatre (Associate Producer), The Lazy Susan Theatre, Discovery Channels, "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" (Frankenstein) with Donald Sutherland. London, England credits include work at: The Duke of York Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre, The Questors Theatre, The British Embassy Players. Mark is a graduate of The Drama Studio, London, England. Mark is also a narrator of audio books for Gildan Audio: “True North”, by Bill George; “Never Give Up”, by Tedy Bruschi and “Five Minds for the Future”, by Howard Gardner among them. Mark currently teaches Advanced Acting at The Little Theatre of Alexandria and still performs locally in many theatres.

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