I was very surprised, upon reading a review I wrote of The Mystery of Irma Vep’s last revival (in 1998) to find that I kind of enjoyed it pretty much all the way through. The late Charles Ludlam’s affectionate 1986 sendup of penny dreadfuls and gothic romances, it’s a two-hander with multiple characters, quick changes, and a good deal of camp sendup (only a portion of it implicitly homosexual). As with the last revival, the direction of the remounting at the Lucille Lortel theatre is directed by Ludlum protege Everett Quinton, though he does not, this time, take on half of the acting honors; those are being assayed by Robert Sella and Arnie Burton, both of whom acquit themselves admirably, though the comedy style seems a little forced here and there.
This time around, my attention began to fade and wander sometime after the intermission; right around when the plot threads lost cohesion and the send-up took over. Most of the audience didn’t seem to mind, but (paradoxically for all my fading attention), I became acutely aware of places the script needed cutting and tightening.
There’s no mystery to why Irma Vep has found its way into the canon of American plays: it’s a breathless showcase of crazy for two comic actors and can be done relatively cheaply. But this time around its popularity seemed to me out of proportion with its actual achievement.
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