R.I.P. Everett Quinton

I was running around from pillar to post yesterday so couldn’t respond as immediately as I would have liked to the sad news of the passing of the great stage star Everett Quinton (b. 1952). I’d only learned recently that he was unwell from some of his regular cast members. He’d developed glioblastoma, suffered a rough course of treatments, his decline hastened by a bout of Covid.

Adam Feldman called him Charles Ludlam’s “widow”, a way of putting it which both men, revered for their skill as drag artists, would have loved. Everett had joined Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company in the mid ’70s, and quickly became his romantic and artistic partner, as well as his anointed successor. AIDS took Ludlam in 1987, and Quinton soldiered on for nearly a decade until the management side of things got the better of him, and (in what has become the common fate of all too many downtown theatres) he lost the company’s legendary long time space at One Sheridan Square over a rent dispute. I was privileged to see him perform in that space just once, in the company’s 1991 revival of Ludlam’s Bluebeard. I think I learned that the original company per se had folded just a few years after that when I caught a performance of a “Penny Dreadful” Quinton had written himself and performed at P.S.122. He was on record as feeling guilty about his failure to keep the Ridiculous going. Though he stopped using the brand, he never stopped embodying the aesthetic, and in a very real sense, wherever he was, whatever he did, was the Ridiculous. I saw his performances whenever I could over the years, on perhaps a half dozen subsequent occasions. And was delighted to see him on the big screen sometimes; he has a scene stealing turn in Natural Born Killers (1994).

I first worked up the nerve to ask Everett to consider starring in a play of mine in the ’90s. He politely demurred, but did thrill me by coming to see it in the production that starred his fellow Ridiculous alum Julia Pearlstein in 2002. He also graciously came to a reading of another play of mine at Theater for the New City in 2008. Both were at the instigation of Julia, who has lost several dear ones over a short time, and of whom I am inevitably thinking today. Here’s a photo of the three of us at a social occasion from around that time, with me lurking in the background like the stalker that I was.:

A decade ago, my long cherished dream of getting to work with Everett was realized when he signed on to appear in Theater Askew’s production of my play about Adah Isaacs Mencken, which after a long period of development and rehearsal finally went on the boards at La Mama in early 2015. Like 99% of theatre in my experience, the production was a heartbreaker, but I learned tons from getting to work with Everett, as I had learned every time I watched him perform. He was obviously funny, but anybody who knew him will tell you that much more than that, he was prized for his moral virtues, for he was also gracious and generous and nurturing and industrious and caring and conscientious and protective and loyal and down-to-earth. The word I’m looking for to describe him, I think, is maternal. He was more maternal than many an actual mother.

The last time I got to sit down and speak with him was in 2017, for this article I wrote about his revival of Ludlam’s The Artificial Jungle and this accompanying piece celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Ridiculous. A few months after that I reviewed his revival of When Queens Collide at La Mama. I saw him in at least a couple of things after that. The last, I think was Galas at St. John’s Church, with friends Shane Baker and Jenne Vath in the cast, in 2019. This revival of Big Hotel was just a few months ago.

It was soon after that the cancer began to attack his brain. I hope Shane doesn’t mind my quoting him here: “It’s incredibly unjust that someone who made so many people laugh and created so much beauty should have such an ugly last act.” Truth. So let’s all who admired him strive to perpetuate his legacy, and let that be the last act. Small comfort to Everett maybe, who had to endure the pain of the last few months. But he’s free of it now, and Everett was a pretty religious guy. If there’s a heaven, he’s in it with Charles, in fabulous, jerry-rigged raiment, with halos of cardboard and tin foil, and wings from Ramona’s closet.

More tributes (to which I’ll add as they become available over the next few days):

New York Times

La Mama

The Advocate