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Rollicking `Medea' shows Ludlam troupe's vitality

It seemed inevitable that Charles Ludlam's death last May would close down the Ridiculous Theatrical Company for good. How could the troupe go on without the dedicated leader who wrote, directed, and starred in all its productions? Happily, expectations of the company's demise have proved - well, ridiculous.

It's true that Ludlam, one of the great originals in the comic theater of our time, is irreplaceable. But he took care to populate the Ridiculous company with other performers as deliciously eccentric, if not as prodigiously gifted, as himself. Since the troupe was as much a Ludlam creation as his plays were, it should be able to live merrily on, as he surely wished it would.

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And that's exactly what it's doing. The company's Greenwich Village home base, newly dubbed the Charles Ludlam Theatre, recently hosted a rollicking rehash of ``Medea,'' freely adapted from Euripides by Ludlam himself and featuring a cast of Ridiculous regulars.

The production had a limited run, and one hopes it will return soon for a longer engagement. But whatever happens next, it was a historic event - proving that the company still has the skill, enthusiasm, and chutzpah to stage a first-class Ridiculous hit.

Not that ``Medea: A Tragedy'' was for everyone. Ludlam was a king of camp, and his plays often (though not always) have moments of dubious taste. The production of ``Medea'' rated about PG-13 in this department, putting it halfway between the raunchiness of ``Salambbo'' and the family entertainment of ``A Christmas Carol,'' to mention just a couple of bygone Ridiculous evenings.

In any case, the success of ``Medea'' came not from its excesses but from the comic adroitness of its writer and its cast. Ludlam has converted the play into a boisterous tragicomedy that's over in less than an hour, yet retains not only the basic plot, about a murderous mother, but such key Euripidean concerns as the fragility of democracy, the whimsy of the gods, and Medea's status as a stranger in a strange land.

And the performers did him proud. Directed by Lawrence Kornfeld, himself a longtime theatrical innovator, Ridiculous regulars Everett Quinton and Black-Eyed Susan played the leading roles with energy and panache. Hot on their heels was a zealous supporting cast that included Ludlam associates Bill Vehr and John D. Brockmeyer as well as newcomer Jud Lawrence, and a three-member ``Khorus of Korinthian Women.''

Ridiculous? You bet. And also a near-perfect example of its enduringly mischievous breed. Ludlam lives.

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