April 12, 1943|
Floral Park, New York, United States
May 28, 1987 (aged 44)|
New York, New York, United States
Charles Braun Ludlam (April 12, 1943 – May 28, 1987) was an American actor, director, and playwright.
Ludlam was born in Floral Park, New York, the son of Marjorie (née Braun) and Joseph William Ludlam. He was raised in Greenlawn, New York, and attended Harborfields High School. He was openly gay, and performed in plays with the Township Theater Group, a community theatre in Huntington, and worked backstage at the Red Barn Theater, a summer stock theatre in Northport. During his senior year of high school, Ludlam directed, produced, and performed plays with a group of friends, students from Huntington, Northport, Greenlawn, and Centerport. Their "Students Repertory Theatre", housed in the loft studio beneath the Posey School of Dance on Main Street in Northport, seated an audience of 25, and was sold out for every performance. Their repertoire included Kan Kikuchi's Madman on the Roof; Theatre of the Soul; a readers' theatre adaptation of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology; and plays by August Strindberg and Eugene O'Neill.
He received a degree in dramatic literature from Hofstra University in 1964. At Hofstra, Ludlam met Black-Eyed Susan, whom he cast in one of his college productions. The two became close friends, and Black-Eyed Susan performed in more of Ludlam's plays over the following decades than any other actor, except Ludlam himself.
Ludlam joined John Vaccaro's Play-House of the Ridiculous, and after a falling out, founded his own Ridiculous Theatrical Company in 1967. His first plays were rudimentary exercises; starting with Bluebeard, he began writing more structured plays, which were often pastiches of gothic novels; works by Federico Garcia Lorca, Shakespeare, and Richard Wagner; and popular culture and old movies. These works were humorous but had serious undertones. After seeing one of Ludlam's plays, theater critic Brendan Gill famously remarked, "This isn't farce. This isn't absurd. This is absolutely ridiculous!". Ludlam commented on his own work:
I would say that my work falls into the classical tradition of comedy. Over the years there have been certain traditional approaches to comedy. As a modern artist you have to advance the tradition. I want to work within the tradition so that I don’t waste my time trying to establish new conventions. You can be very original within the established conventions.
Ludlam's Bluebeard was produced at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, where Vaccaro's company was in residence, in March 1970. Ludlam performed in this production as Khanazar von Bluebeard. Black-Eyed-Susan, Lola Pashalinski, and Mario Montez also performed in this production.
He taught and/or staged productions at New York University, Connecticut College, Yale University, and Carnegie Mellon University. He won fellowships from the Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and Ford Foundations, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts. He won six Obie Awards over the course of his career, including a Sustained Excellence Obie Award two weeks before his death in 1987, and won the Rosamund Gilder Award for distinguished achievement in the theater in 1986.
Ludlam often appeared in his plays, and was particularly noted for his female roles. He wrote one of the first plays to address, though indirectly, the AIDS epidemic. His most well-known play isThe Mystery of Irma Vep, in which two actors play seven roles in a pastiche of gothic horror novels. The original production featured Ludlam and his partner Everett Quinton. Rights to perform the play include a stipulation that the actors must be of the same sex, in order to ensure cross-dressing in the production. In 1991, Irma Vep was the most produced play in the United States; and in 2003, it became the longest-running production ever staged in Brazil.
Ludlam was diagnosed with AIDS in March 1987. He attempted to fight the disease with his lifelong interest in healthy eating and a macrobiotic diet, but died a month after his AIDS diagnosis, of PCP pneumonia, at St. Vincent's Hospital. The blockin front of his Sheridan Square theater was renamed "Charles Ludlam Lane" in his honor.
In 2009, Ludlam was inducted posthumously into the American Theater Hall of Fame. After his death, "Walter Ego", the dummy from Ludlam's 1978 play The Ventriloquist's Wife, was donated to the Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, where it remains on exhibit; the puppet was designed and built by actor and puppetmaker Alan Semok.
Plays (as playwright)
- Big Hotel (1967)
- Conquest of the Universe, or When Queens Collide (1968)
- Turds in Hell (1969) adaptation of Satyricon
- The Grand Tarot (1969)
- Bluebeard (1970) adaptation of H. G. Wells's The Island of Dr Moreau
- Eunuchs of the Forbidden City (1971)
- Corn (1972)
- Camille (1973)
- Hot Ice (1974)
- Stage Blood (1975) adaptation of Hamlet
- Tabu Tableaux (1975)
- Caprice (1976)
- Jack and the Beanstalk (1976)
- Der Ring Gott Farblonjet (1977) adaptation of The Ring Cycle
- The Ventriloquist's Wife (1978)
- Utopia, Incorporated (1979)
- The Enchanted Pig (1979)
- Elephant Woman (1979)
- A Christmas Carol (1979)
- Reverse Psychology (1980)
- Love's Tangled Web (1981)
- Secret Lives of the Sexists (1982)
- Exquisite Torture (1982)
- Le Bourgeois Avant-Garde (1983) adaptation of Molière's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme
- Galas (1983) inspired by the life of Maria Callas
- The Mystery of Irma Vep (1984)
- How to Write a Play (1984)
- Salammbo (1985) adaptation of Gustave Flaubert's Salammbo (novel)
- The Artificial Jungle (1986)
- Professor Bedlam's Educational Punch and Judy Show
- Anti-Galaxie Nebulae
Plays (as actor)
- The Life of Lady Godiva by Ronald Tavel (as Peeping Tom)
- Indira Gandhi's Daring Device by Ronald Tavel (as Kamaraj)
- Screen Test by Ronald Tavel (as Norma Desmond)
- Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen (as Hedda Gabler) American Ibsen Theatre, Pittsburgh, 1984; directed by Mel Shapiro (dramaturg: Micheael X. Zelenak; assistant to the director: Hafiz Karmali)
Plays (as director)
- Whores of Babylon by Bill Vehr (1968)
- The English Cat by Hans Werner Henze (American premiere, Santa Fe Opera, 1985)
- Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II (Santa Fe Opera)
Films (as actor)
- The Life, Death and Assumption of Lupe Velez by José Rodriguez-Soltero (as The Lesbian) (1966)
- Underground and Emigrants
- Reel 6: Charles Ludlam's Grand Tarot (1970)
- Imposters (1980)
- Museum of Wax
- Doomed Love (1983)
- The Big Easy (1987)
- Forever, Lulu (1987)
- She Must Be Seeing Things (1988)
Television (as actor)
- Kaufman, David (2003-02-16). "'Ridiculous!'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-05-16.
- "Charles Ludlam Biography (1943-1987)". www.filmreference.com. Retrieved 2018-05-16.
- Simon, Kate. BOMB Magazine interview with Black-Eyed Susan by Kate Simon (Spring, 1988), BOMB (magazine), 1988. Accessed October 1, 2013.
- Castle, Ted "Charles Ludlam and Christopher Scott Interview" BOMB Magazine, Winter 1982.
- La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: 'Ridiculous Theater Company Presents: Bluebeard' (1970)". Accessed May 16, 2018.
- "87 | Obie Awards". Obie Awards. Retrieved 2018-05-16.
- Baron, Michael, The Whore of Sheridan Square (a play inspired by the life of Charles Ludlam) in Plays and Playwrights 2006 An Anthology, edited by Martin Denton, 2006. ISBN 0-9670234-7-5
- Edgecomb Sean, Charles Ludlam Lives!: Charles Busch, Bradford Louryk, Taylor Mac and the Queer Legacy of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, 2017. ISBN 0-47205-355-8
- Kaufman, David A., Ridiculous!: The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, 2002. ISBN 1-55783-588-8
- Ludlam, Charles, Ridiculous Theatre: Scourge of Human Folly: The Essays and Opinions of Charles Ludlam, edited by Steven Samuels, 1992. ISBN 1-55936-041-0
- Ludlam. The Complete Plays of Charles Ludlam, edited by Steven Samuels. ISBN 0-06-055172-0
- Roemer, Rick, Charles Ludlam and the Ridiculous Theatrical Company: Critical Analyses of 29 Plays by Rick Roemer, 1998. ISBN 0-7864-0340-3
- Charles Ludlam on IMDb
- Charles Ludlam at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- BOMB Magazine interview with Charles Ludlam and Christopher Scott by Ted Castle (Winter, 1982)
- Charles Ludlam papers, 1967-1989. Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
- Bedlam Days (the early plays by Charles Ludlam)
- "Bluebeard" The seduction of Miss Cubbidge, audio and photographs by Leandro Katz (1970) (Vimeo)
- Ludlam's page on La MaMa Archives Digital Collections