Charles Ludlam, founder of the Ridiculous Theatre, author of several dozen plays, and perhaps the only man to attempt the role of Camille in full décolletage and ample chest hair, composed a manifesto of drag performance entitled “Costume Fetishism.” He advised, “Be artificial. Wear as much underwear as possible. Foundation garments should be tight. Gold goes with everything.”
It’s the rare classic of modernism that embraces ruffled panties as leitmotif, but director Emma Griffin has adopted all these maxims in her revival of Ludlam’s 1967 cross-dressed cavalcade Conquest of the Universe—a mix of Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, sci-fi, vaudeville, and Hamlet outtakes. Tyrant Tamburlaine (Matthew Maher) bends the solar system to his will, forcing the kings and queens of the planets to submit to sexual subjugation and big production numbers.
While the despotism proves a great success, the same cannot be said for Salt Theater’s production. When seen a year and a half ago during a brief run at the Ice Factory Festival, all seemed glitter and happy anarchy. But this time around the pacing seems troubled and raunchiness forced in a way no amount of lingerie can disguise. Griffin’s a great talent and most of Ludlam’s work deserves constant revival, but this is a case where the clothes don’t quite make the man.