BWW Reviews: Rubicon's Irma Vep is a Ghoulish Treat


The Mystery of Irma Vep
by Charles Ludlam
directed by Jenny Sullivan
Rubicon Theatre Company, Ventura
through November 6 only

The Mystery of Irma Vep, written by Charles Ludlam in 1984 and a sensation off Broadway and beyond into the 90s, certainly lives up to its subtitle A Penny Dreadful. That's actually a good thing! A Penny Dreadul was a 19th century British fictional publication, usually printed in papers and magazines as a serial (in consecutive installments), aimed at cheap sensationalism. In all its campy style and ludicrousness, Irma Vep aims to thrill, even overkill, tickling one's fancy with its heavy emphasis on vampires, ghosts and werewolves. This perfect for Halloween treat, directed in brilliant, resourceful style by Jenny Sullivan will play on at the Rubicon in Ventura through Sunday November 6 only.

Two actors, Joseph Fuqua and Jamie Torcellini, in an astounding act of courage or lunacy, maybe both, essay eight characters in telling a story that parodies the Victorian era as well as several theatrical pieces and films, with a heavy concentration on Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca. It is a requirement that the two actors in this cross-dressing piece be of the same sex. Lady Enid (Torcellini), an aging actress of the stage is the new second wife of Lord Edgar (Fuqua) of Mandacrest Manor. The first wife Irma, whose portrait hangs over the mantelpiece, met a strange and violent death as did her son Victor, and loyal servant Jane (Fuqua) finds her own creepy, sordid way to pull the rug out from under Enid, who so longs for acceptance as the new lady of the manor. How did Irma die? How much does Jane really know? And what about Nicodemus (Torcellini), the vulnerable nitwit male servant, who must also put up with Jane and her evil ways? Remember Judith Anderson, who was evil personified as Mrs. Danvers in she deviously plotted to undermine poor Joan Fontaine in her attempt to fit in as Laurence Olivier's second wife? Well, Jane follows in her footsteps, but with many, many more issues and complications. Act II switches scenes from the moors of England to Egypt - what could be more exotic, where we are faced with mummies, ghouls and other elements of darkness?

Fuqua and Torcellini are nothing short of amazing in their portrayal of all the characters. How they make the costume changes so quickly is an astounding feat, not to mention the different accents they utilize and the overall tremendous physicality that the execution of the play demands from them. I still cannot figure out how Torcellini as Nicodemus makes such a fast exit lying face down on the floor; he's literally whisked backwards off the stage as in a gust of wind. Sullivan keeps the pacing up and moving at lightning speed and the entire silly, over-the-top show is sheer heaven, maybe hell....that is the absolute trick or treat! Don't fuss over plot or try to make sense out of something that baffles you; it doesn't matter. Pay close attention to every sight and sound; if you blink your eyes you might miss a devilishly delicious moment.


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From This Author Don Grigware

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