The synopsis of The Mystery of Irma Vep promises either something horrendous or something horrendously funny: "Lady Enid has come to Mandacrest as the new wife of Lord Edgar Hillcrest, unaware of the tragedy that befell his first wife, Lady Irma. She must command all her resources to battle the curse of werewolves, vampires and even an Egyptian mummy brought back to life, if she is to secure a happy future for her husband and herself." The Park Square Theatre production is all farce and camp; it is over the top - in all the best ways.
Charles Hubbell and Steve Lewis, who play . . . well, everyone, are pitch-perfect physical actors. The comedy of the production lay not only in the script and delivery, but also in the logistics. Jane Twisden (Charles Hubbell) cannot appear on the stage at the same time as Lord Edgar Hillcrest (Charles Hubbell). Nicodemus Underwood (Steve Lewis), Lady Enid Hillcrest (Steve Lewis), Alcazar (Steve Lewis), and Pev Amri (Steve Lewis) also cannot, for obvious reasons, be seen together, lest something in the spirit of Schrodinger's cat occurs. This results in hilarious stage exits and entrances, as well as a very funny exchange between Nicodemus and Lady Enid that occurs not quite off stage.
The production is ripe with puns, double entendres, double takes, and physical comedy. The actors have perfected verbal tics and peculiar walks that would complete any Monty Python skit. The sets are appropriately claustrophobic, intoning the mid-twentieth century vision of the Victorian gothic. Exceedingly enjoyable, the play is both shameless slapstick and smart camp.
Charles Ludlum, founder of The Ridiculous Theatrical Company, was a playwright, actor, producer, director, and designer. Taking Shakespeare and Moliere as models, he would play any or all of these roles on any given production. As in The Mystery of Irma Vep, female roles were often played by men (as they were in Elizabethan theaters). For Ludlum, this casting philosophy was about the inherent ridiculousness of identifying gender through external appearances. Shakespeare and Moliere also make their appearance in Irma Vep in more obvious ways; lines from their plays find their way into the utterances of the characters. Shakespeare's "there are more things in heaven and earth" has never sounded so inevitable and funny.
Charles Ludlum concludes his Manifesto: Ridiculous Theatre, Scourge of Human Folly, with the following: The theater is a humble materialist enterprise which seeks to produce riches of the imagination, not the other way around. The theater is an event, not an object. Theatre workers need not blush and conceal their desperate struggle to pay the landlords their rents. Theater without the stink of art.
When it comes right down to it, the Park Square Theater production of The Mystery of Irma Vep is fun.
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