NEW YORK — Charles Ludlam, whose Ridiculous Theatrical Company had become one of New York City's more innovative and popular attractions, died Thursday in St. Vincent's Hospital. He was 44 and his death from pneumonia was related to AIDS.
Ludlam had known for only a few months that he had been stricken with acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Everett Quinton, a companion and acting associate, said Ludlam had appeared to be improving until a few days ago.
An actor, writer and director, Ludlam was one of the more prolific artists on the Broadway scene. His productions in a minute theater on Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village included such parodies as "Camille," "Bluebeard," "Der Ring Gott Farblonjet," "Galas" (a spoof on operatic diva Maria Callas) and "Reverse Psychology."
Winner of Awards
He won a Drama Desk award and six Off Broadway (Obie) awards, including one earlier this month for sustained achievement in theater.
"We lost an extraordinary artist who was just on his way to a tremendous breakthrough in theater and opera," said Joseph Papp, a producer.
At his death Ludlam had completed a major role in "The Big Easy," a feature film to be released this summer. He also was working on a stage project, "A Piece of Pure Escapism," in which he would have played magician Harry Houdini.
Since 1967, the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, located in a tiny basement theater, has presented more than two dozen productions, most of them written and directed by Ludlam. He also starred in most of them, sometimes as male, often as female.
Among Ludlam's best-known works were "The Mystery of Irma Vep," a quick-change melodrama set on the English moors; Dumas' "Camille," in which he played Marguerite Gautier; and last season's satire of film noire, "The Artificial Jungle."
Interest as a Child
As a child, Ludlam was intrigued with puppets and marionettes. At the age of 17, he founded his own theater in Northport, N.Y., producing plays by such authors as Eugene O'Neill and August Strindberg. He later majored in dramatic literature at Hostra University.
In 1967, Ludlam and six other actors formed the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, which quickly became known for its ensemble acting, outrageous wit, flamboyant style and biting satire. Among the other shows the company produced were "Conquest of the Universe or When Queens Collide" (1967), and "The Enchanted Pig" (1979).
The company has toured extensively in the United States and Europe.
Ludlam also played the title role in "Hedda Gabler" (as a man) at the American Ibsen Theater in Pittsburgh. He also directed several legitimate operas, including "Die Fledermaus" at the Santa Fe Opera.
He was considered on the verge of entering a new stage in his career, directing a production of Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus" as part of producer Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival in Central Park. The play was postponed when he was admitted to the hospital April 30.