Thanks to Lisa for this article!
A review from The New York Times

April 29, 2001 

Counterintelligence: Still Playing a Tough Dame

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 

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.