Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Irma Vep"

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note: entire contents copyright 1996 by Larry Stark

"The Mystery of Irma Vep"

Written by Charles Ludlam
Directed by Jayme Koszyn

Scenic Design by Martin Bridge
Lighting Design by L. Stacy Eddy
Costume Design by Viola Mackenthun
Sound Design by Pamela Emerson
Props Designed by Kristine Holmes
Production Stage Manager Johnie Steele

Jane..................Fred Berman
Nicodemis............Mark Enright
Lady Enid.....Dame Karen M. Girth
Lord Edgar............Bram Ferden
The Intruder........Andre M. Berf
Alcazar...............Tim Krenign
Princess Pev Amri....Marge Thrink
Irma Vep............Fern D. Barme

All theater is fake, but Charles Ludlam raised fakery to an art-form, and then pushed it over the edge and over the top. There are levels below levels of trickery, both obvious and subtle, in his ridiculous play "The Mystery of Irma Vep" (subtitled "a penny dreadful") that keep unfolding and then folding back in on themselves. It's a hoot.

For one thing, some of the women's parts are taken by men in obvious drag, and the exaggerated melodrama-style acting, with elaborate gestures, mugging, pregnant pauses, off-stage wolf- howls, lightning costume-changes (a couple in full view), and bodies bounding hither and thither keeps the surprises coming.

The show begins as a send-up of drawing-room melodrama, with gory hints about the death of Lord Edgar's first wife, and bawdy baddinage between Jane the housekeeper (Fred Berman) and the wooden-legged swineherd Nicodemis (Mark Enright) skewing the line a little --- but then plot-twists begin falling out of the flats until there are a dead wolf, a were-wolf, an undead vampire (or is it a ghoul?), a cleaver-wielding mad murderer, and a resuscitated Egyptian mummy all skulking about the mansion or running across the moors by the light of a gibbous moon.

Director Jayme Koszyn keeps her cast in continual stylistic motion so that just when things seem comprehensible the mood goes spanging off into yet another unexpected direction, or yet another character emerges out of the woodwork. Trickery, parody, send-up and slapstick and here and there an outrageous pun bounce about the stage until a traditional clinch-kiss-fadeout ending, and a curtain-call that must be seen to be believed.

And the cookies they sell in the interval are scrumptious!



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