Charles Ludlam

From Academic Kids

Charles Ludlam (April 12, 1943 - May 28, 1987) was an American actor and playwright.

He was born in Floral Park, New York, raised in Northport, Long Island, and received a degree in dramatic literature from Hofstra University in 1964, by which time he had come out as gay. He joined John Vaccaro's Playhouse of the Ridiculous, and after a falling out, became founder of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in New York City in 1967. His first plays were inchoate exercises: however, starting with Bluebeard he began to write more structured works, which, though they were pastiches of gothic novels, Shakespeare, Wagner, popular culture, old movies, and anything else that might get a laugh, had more serious import. Theater critic Brendan Gill after seeing one of Ludlam's plays famously remarked, "This isn't farce. This isn't absurd. This is absolutely ridiculous!". Ludlam usually appeared in his plays, and was particularly noted for his female roles. He wrote one of the first plays to deal (though tangentially) with HIV infection; he was diagnosed with AIDS in March 1987. He attempted to fight the disease by putting his life-long interest in health foods and macrobiotic diet to use. He died of PCP pneumonia in St. Vincent's Hospital, New York. The street in front of his theatre in Sheridan Square was renamed "Charles Ludlam Lane" in his honor.

Ludlam had taught or staged productions at New York University, Connecticut College for Women, 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 four Obie awards, the last one 2 weeks before his death, and won the Rosamund Gilder Award for distinguished achievement in the theater in 1986.

His most popular play, and the only one to enter the standard repertory, is The Mystery of Irma Vep, in which two actors manage, through a variety of quick-change techniques, to play seven roles in a send-up of gothic horror novels. The original production featuring Ludlam and his lover Everett Quinton was a tour de force. In order to ensure cross-dressing, rights to perform the play include a stipulation that the actors must be of the same sex. In 1991 Irma Vep was the most produced play in the United States; and in 2003 it became the longest-running play ever produced in Brazil.


Plays (as playwright)

Puppet shows

  • Professor Bedlam's Educational Punch and Judy Show
  • Anti-Galaxie Nebulae

Plays (as actor)

  • The Life, Death and Assumption of Lupe Velez by Ronal Tavel (as The Lesbian)
  • The Life of Lady Godiva by Ronal Tavel (as Peeping Tom)
  • Indira Gandhi's Daring Device by Ronal Tavel (as Kamaraj)
  • Screen Test by Ronal Tavel (as Norma Desmond)
  • Hedda Gabler (title role) Pittsburgh (1984)

Plays (as director)

Movies (as actor)

Television (as actor)


  • Ludlam, Charles, Ridiculous Theatre: Scourge of Human Folly: The Essays and Opinions of Charles Ludlam, edited by Steven Samuels, 1992.
  • Ludlam, Charles, The Complete Plays of Charles Ludlam, edited by Steven Samuels.
  • Kaufman, David, Ridiculous!: The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, 2002.
  • Roemer, Rick, Charles Ludlam and the Ridiculous Theatrical Company: Critical Analyses of 29 Plays by Rick Roemer, 1998.

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