Thanks to Lisa for this article! A review from The New York Times April 29, 2001 Counterintelligence: Still Playing a Tough Dame By ALEX WITCHEL Andrew Itkoff for The New York Times Everett Quinton, out of costume: once of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, he is now the stepmother in "Cinderella." ORT LAUNDERDALE, Fla. -- The ladies in Row H were mightily confused at a Wednesday matinee here of "Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella." "It says the stepmother is Everett Quinton," one said, consulting her Playbill. "That sounds like a man, doesn't it?" Her friend shook her head, squinting at the stage. "That's a woman," she declared. "But she's no beauty." She is also no woman. The role of the stepmother in the national tour of this musical is indeed being played by Mr. Quinton, best known for his 20 years of drag artistry with the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in Greenwich Village. Also in the cast, as Cinderella, is Jamie-Lynn Sigler, better known as Tony Soprano's daughter, Meadow, on HBO's "Sopranos." And Eartha Kitt as the Fairy Godmother heads a multicultural cast that includes a black king and an Asian prince, though the Florida audience seemed more flummoxed by the stepmother. As Margo Jefferson once wrote in The New York Times, "As an actor, Mr. Quinton knows every trick of the tough-dame trade." Not that it's always easy for him. When the other actors exit the stage door to greet the eager fans outside (including little girls dressed as the show's title character), Mr. Quinton is rarely recognized. He is a small man whose shaved head and tough guy affect is offset by his narrow shoulders and nerdy get-up: white T-shirt, plaid shorts, black sneakers and white socks. He looks like the runt of a longshoreman's litter. "I'm resigned to it," he said, walking anonymously past the crowd. "Most days I don't need the extra strokes. But sometimes I come out with Ken Prymus and everyone says to him, `You're the king!' and he says, `But he's the stepmother!' That's when I get to sign autographs." When Mr. Quinton joined the Ridiculous in 1976, the company founded and led by Charles Ludlam, the celebrated avant-garde playwright, director and star who died of AIDS in 1987, he played both men and women, and he still refers to himself as both an actor and a drag queen. "We're so into judging ourselves now, we're not supposed to call ourselves drag queens anymore," he said, having an early dinner between performances. "What are we now? Gender illusionists. I guess aspiring to womanhood is always a no-no. When I outgrew my mother's shoes it was my first resentment. I thought I was cuckoo until I met Charles. I was just a gay kid aspiring to this." He held out his arms. "This" has been a long time coming. When Mr. Quinton started working with Mr. Ludlam no one had ever heard of AIDS, the top sitcom showcased Archie Bunker (were Will or Grace even born?) and the country's big exposure to drag was Jack Lemmon in "Some Like It Hot." But in its tiny basement theater on Sheridan Square, the Ridiculous soldiered on, changing cultural perceptions 144 customers at a time. Now, as this production continues its 18-month tour across America (with a stop in New York at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, May 3 through May 13), the country's casual embrace of a drag performer in a leading role signals how times have changed. Mr. Ludlam and Mr. Quinton were lovers for 12 years. After Mr. Ludlam's death, Mr. Quinton assumed leadership of the company, preserving the Ridiculous legacy, which was an outrageous combination of theatrical classicism, camp and burlesque, famous for over-the-top costumes often designed by Mr. Quinton himself. The elaborately zany outfits he wears as the stepmother were just the type he would have come up with; his dresses are carefully laced with "sour apple green," as the lyric goes, to show envy for Cinderella. Once the show got under way, the women who were initially distracted by Mr. Quinton joined in and started hissing his evil character along with the kids. "Once people get over it and realize what's up, then they go with it," he said. "It's like that woman who played Judy Garland recently in that miniseries. You say no, but suddenly by the end of it you totally believed she was Judy Garland. And with movies like Mrs. Doubtfire, the audience is primed now. I love playing a woman, not a man disguised as a woman." Primed though the audience may be for drag, Mr. Quinton says he still encounters bigotry in everyday life. "My dresser in Columbus was a nice straight kid," he recalled. "We would joke a lot. And then he said, `Straight guys don't like to be dressers because there are too many queers in the theater.' That's the kind of stuff that startles me. That people still have small- minded reactions to things." When Mr. Quinton arrived at the audition for "Cinderella" he was dressed in black pants and a black shirt. "Talk about preconceptions," he said, laughing. "Every single woman who was there for that role was dressed in black. There were about 50 of us for the stepmother and her daughters, including two other men." Part of Mr. Quinton's elation at winning this role is that after the Ridiculous disbanded in 1996, he believed he would never work again. "Being at the Ridiculous I had a bad reputation for being too broad, over the top," he said. "And I was always so connected to it, I could never commit to doing anything else. So, I thought, what would normals do here? I went to the Applause Bookstore, got a list of theaters and sent out my résumé. And I got a new agent." Soon, Mr. Quinton was playing roles in regional theater, including Dr. Caius in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" at the Shakespeare Theater in Washington. "The shows are mostly fantasy stuff, ice queens who touch you and turn you to stone," he said. "Right up my alley. "I think I stayed so long at the Ridiculous because I was afraid to change," he continued. "And after Charles died, I didn't want to lose another thing. I tried to protect his legacy but the debt kept mounting and I was waking up suicidal. Toward the end there was no staff, no one to help. During the last play, I was doing laundry and cleaning the toilets. We were always running like hell to stay behind." Though Mr. Quinton has a partner now, the wistfulness with which he recalls Mr. Ludlam seems omnipresent. After spending a troubled childhood in Brooklyn as the second of 12 children, Mr. Quinton dropped out of John Jay High School before earning a general equivalency diploma. He enrolled at Hunter College in 1973, two years before he met Mr. Ludlam. "I was just cruising Christopher Street on a cold February night," Mr. Quinton remembered. "He gave me his phone number but I lost it. I thought his name was Steven. Six month later, that August, I was back on Christopher Street and he walked out of a restaurant and said to me, `You do exist.' From then on we were together." He smiled. "I ran away and joined the circus." What would Mr. Ludlam make of Mr. Quinton's current role? "He'd be jealous," he said, grinning. "Though they probably would have given it to him. You know, people used to ask if I felt left out when Charles was running things, but I never felt that. I was getting meaty little roles, getting noticed. In that little world I felt like a star. And just when I thought it was all over, that I'd never act again, I got the offer from the Shakespeare Theater." He gestured toward the ocean view and grinned. "Who else gets a job sitting in Florida looking at palm trees?" he asked. Soon though, the sun dropped. Mr. Quinton got into the car to return for the evening performance. The driver left him at the stage door and watched as he went inside. "That one of the producers?" he asked. No, he was told, that man actually plays the wicked stepmother. He paused a moment. "How about that," he marveled. Indeed.