BWW Reviews: THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP Is Triumphantly Silly at Third Rail
Normally I try to write serious reviews that take into account a play's social impact, but not all plays can be dealt with in that way. Sometimes you just get a big bag of silly. The Mystery of Irma Vep has a plot, but I'm not going to bother you with it. It's an excuse for groanworthy puns, asides to the audience, and a few thousand costume changes. Third Rail is normally a purveyor of thoughtful, intelligent plays that make you think about the human condition, but here they're just out to make you laugh. Leif Norby and Isaac Lamb are a hoot, each playing a multitude of characters in a plot that starts out in an English drawing room, takes a right turn to Egypt, and detours through the audience. (There is a very good chance you will end up interacting with them in Act Two. Feel free to improvise.)
It's easy to dismiss the show as fluff, but you really have to admire the hard work and incredible timing of the two actors (just two) and the people backstage who are helping them change in out of their various roles. A couple of times the changes happen so quickly that you half expect to see Norby or Lamb engaging in dialogue with himself. And the poor beleaguered dressers do get their moment in the spotlight. Director Philip Cuomo has encouraged both actors to indulge their wildest impulses, and they both play the whole show with tongues firmly in cheek. The sound desig by Mark Valadez is a major help, and Alison Heryer's costumes are miraculous - appropriate, exaggerated just enough to be funny, and designed to be ripped off in a big hurry.
Surprisingly, both actors are better in their female roles; they make for rather dotty women, but they're clearly having the time of their lives. And so will you. Irma Vep - watch for the anagram there - is one of the best laugh-out-loud farces I've ever seen. See it soon, before Mr. Norby and Mr. Lamb pass out from exhaustion.