AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Charles Ludlam
Presented by California Shakespeare Theater
Directed by Jonathan Moscone
Bruns Memorial Amphitheater
100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda, CA / (510) 548-9666

Reviewed by Judy Richter

"The Mystery of Irma Vep," subtitled "A Penny Dreadful," is the late Charles Ludlam's spoof of Victorian melodrama, old-time horror movies and more.

California Shakespeare Theater has fun with the show, thanks to direction by Jonathan Moscone and his versatile two-man cast, who play all characters of both genders.

The story takes place in Mandacrest, a spooky country estate owned by Lord Edgar Hillcrest (Liam Vincent), who has remarried after the death of his wife three years earlier. His new wife is Lady Enid (Danny Scheie).

The estate is staffed by Jane Twisden (Vincent), the housekeeper; and Nicodemus Underwood (Scheie), the caretaker.

A portrait of Lord Edgar's first wife, Irma, looms over the massive stone fireplace. She and their young son were killed by a wolf, or perhaps a werewolf.

For various reasons, Lord Edgar, an Egyptologist, goes to an Egyptian tomb, where he finds a mummy and takes it back to Mandacrest. His guide there is Alcazar (Scheie).

Literary allusions to the likes of James Joyce, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Henrik Ibsen and William Shakespeare abound in the script, as do cinematic borrowings from "Gaslight," "Rebecca" and "Wuthering Heights."

They're all part of the fun, but the greatest fun comes from the two actors, who often make split-second character changes. It would be interesting to peer backstage and watch as dressers help them with their transformations. Credit to costume designer Katherine Roth for her role here.

Vincent and Scheie are both Cal Shakes favorites. Here, Vincent tends to play all of his parts fairly straight. Scheie, on the other hand, tends to flounce and mug, as he is wont to do.

The detailed set is by Douglas Schmidt with mood lighting by Alex Nichols. The sound by Cliff Caruthers features some scary storms.

This is Moscone's last hurrah as artistic director of Cal Shakes. During his 16 seasons at its helm, the company has made great strides artistically, upgraded its theater and expanded its community outreach.

He is moving his artistic home across the bay to San Francisco's Yerba Center for the Arts, where he will become chief of civic engagement. His successor has not been named.

He will be greatly missed, but one can hope that he will still be available to direct occasionally.

"The Mystery of Irma Vep" runs about two hours and 10 minutes with one intermission.

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