BWW Review: THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP: A PENNY DREADFUL at Actors Co-Op
The Ovation-winning theatre company, Actors Co-op opens up its 28th season with Charles Ludlam's two-person comedy "The Mystery of Irma Vep - A Penny Dreadful".
On the matinee this reviewer attended, the packed house (of varying ages) was boisterous, interactive, and was truly delighted by the production and the two actors that took us all on a magical mystery tour of camp, tongue-in-cheek humor, and bawdiness that was enjoyed by all.
This hilarious two-actor, multi-character comedic thriller is a nod to the classic Gothic melodramas and early fright flicks of the 30s and 40s. Mandacrest Estate is the home of Lord Edgar, an Egyptologist (John Allee), and Lady Enid (Isaac Wade). Lady Enid is Lord Edgar's second wife, though he has yet to recover entirely from the passing of his first wife, Irma Vep. The house staff, a maid named Jane Twisden (John Allee) and a swineherd named Nicodemus Underwood (Isaac Wade), have their own opinions of Lady Enid.
Enid is attacked by a vampire, and Edgar seeks answers in an Egyptian tomb, briefly resurrecting the mummy of an Egyptian princess (Isaac Wade). Returning home with the sarcophagus, Edgar prepares to hunt down the werewolf he blames for the death of his son and first wife. Meanwhile, Enid discovers Irma locked away, supposedly to coax out the location of precious jewels from her. Wresting the keys to Irma's cell from Jane, Enid frees Irma only to discover the prisoner is, in fact, Jane herself, actually a vampire, and the killer of Irma as well as her and Edgar's son. Nicodemus, now a werewolf, kills Jane, only to be shot dead by Edgar.
In the end, Enid prevents Edgar from writing about his experiences in Egypt, revealing she was the princess herself, the whole thing an elaborate sham by her father to discredit Edgar. The two reconcile.
Director Carla Cackowski brings her skills and prowess from her Second City days and embeds the two actors in the free-form structure of improvisation so Ludlum's words are expressed with freedom, clarity, and (above all) humor-driven characters.
Both actors are superb in their roles (I believe nine, total). But each come at them from much different comedy stylings.
Allee's characters are thorough and solid with the humor coming from truth and character. His maid (Jane) is not a man in a dress, but rather someone right out of "Downton Abbey". The same goes for his Lord Edgar. The comedy is out of the seriousness in which he takes whatever situation is in front of him. Allee brings a command to each and every character he carves out. It is a joy to watch.
Wade is the opposite. His characters seem to come out of sketch comedy. Hysterical, broad, character choices combined with playful nuances and relationships he has established with the audience from the beginning of the show, completely obliterating the "4th wall". We, the audience, anticipate each and every time he comes out so as to see what caricature he is going to pull out of his proverbial bag-of-tricks.
Allee and Wade are an Abbott and Costello/Lucy and Ethel/Hepburn and Tracy combo of the highest quality. Opposite in acting styles and execution, but together...they unite to form an extremely entertaining performance.
For a small theatre, they utilized the space well. A few times, blocking was random or coagulated...but then a new character would come along and we would be mesmerized and entertained again. Special mention goes to Jessa Orr and Greg McGoon for an absolutely ingenious and playful set. The production team Vicki Conrad (Costume Design), Martha Carter (Lighting Design), David B. Marling (Sound Design), Lori Berg (Prop Design), and Eric White (Stage Manager).
"The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful" continues through November 10. Playing Fridays and Saturdays 8:00pm; Sundays 2:30 pm; Saturday Matinees 10/12 & 10/19 at 2:30 pm. Tickets:$35.00. Seniors (60+): $30.00. Students: $25.00. Group rates are available parties of 6 ormore. To buy tickets or make reservations please visit www.ActorsCo-op.org or call (323)462-8460. Actors Co-op Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St. 90028 (on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood) in Hollywood 90028.
Photo Credit: Matthew Gilmore