Cornball comedy, irreverant musical, and a diva on the ropes

Galas, a modern tragedy. Comedy written and directed by Charles Ludlam for the Ridiculous Theatrical Company.

In the long tradition of men playing female roles in theater, Charles Ludlam falls somewhere between Japanese Kabuki and Monty Python's Flying Circus. Though he usually plays male parts, of course, a prizewinning portrayal of Camille is in his repertoire. And his current performance as Maria Magdalena Galas - the last name rhymes with Callas - stands with his best work in years.

Galas is a diva in the grand style, with a pound of temperament to match every ounce of talent. ''I'm not a musician,'' she announces in the first scene, when she's still a struggling unknown, ''I am music!'' And so it goes through two acts of broad satire and mock tragedy: Whether dickering over fees with La Scala or quibbling about Wagner with the Pope, she's the very model of a modern prima donna.

The show even has serious undercurrents, as its heroine becomes more lonely as well as more aloof from her cronies, fans, and lovers. This culminates in the last scene, when she decides to end it all as her maid (once a famed singer herself) lip-syncs Puccini to set a properly pathetic mood.

''Galas'' begins as parody, moves through lampoon and farce, and finishes with a bittersweet coda. It's ridiculous, all right, but it's also real theater, bursting with energy and invention.

''Galas'' could use some trimming, especially during a too-long yachting scene, and some viewers may object to the vulgarisms and brief nudity that slip into the second act. In all, though, this is the most vigorous evening the Ridiculous Theatrical Company has concocted for a long while.

Besides ringleader Ludlam, the chief perpetrator is Everett Quinton, who plays the mad maid and also designed the flamboyant costumes. Jack Kelly devised the settings, which bring a touch of out-and-out spectacle to the troupe's modest Greenwich Village stage. The original music is by Peter Golub, and the cast includes such Ridiculous regulars as Bill Vehr and Black-Eyed Susan.

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