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Review: THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP at Diversionary Theatre offers zany and high-camp humor

Review: THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP at Diversionary Theatre offers zany and high-camp humor

Playing through December 24th at Diversionary Theatre

THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP playing at Diversionary Theatre through December 24th provides a lot of laughter in this zany, fast-paced comedy. A send-up of Victorian Gothic literary tropes, Sci-fi B movies, and more this two-person farce offers queer, high-camp humor making this a great show option for anyone looking for a holiday-themed show alternative.

The revolving cast of characters is all played by the terrifically funny duo of Bryan Banville and Luke Harvey Jacobs. The fun of the show is the delightfully ridiculous events of the plot that builds through an almost constant series of characters, costume changes, and clever staging.

This show doesn't work without two fully committed performers like Banville and Jacobs who are both very funny, fully committed, and seem to be having fun as well. The combination of their skills and comedic chemistry is what makes the show's wordplay and physical comedy sing.

We open at Mandacrest Manor, located out in the moors, where the wind howls and naturally has servants gossiping about the Lord and Lady of the manor. The maid Jane is prickly, and fiercely opinionated about the estate and honoring the memory of the former Lady of the manor Irma Vep. Nicodemus the groundskeeper is sweeter than the severe Jane but is also loyal to the Lord and estate.

Review: THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP at Diversionary Theatre offers zany and high-camp humor
Luke Harvey Jacobs and Bryan Banville in Diversionary Theatre's THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP Photo by Matthew Herman

Lady Enid, is the new bride (and a former actress, the scandal!) to Lord Edgar an Egyptologist who seems obsessed with hunting the wolves that seem to plague his estate. Irma died under seemingly mysterious circumstances (isn't that always the way?) but has left a formidable portrait of herself over the mantle with instructions to always honor her memory.

As Enid learns about the estate and her new husband soon there are all sorts of supernatural shenanigans involving werewolves, vampires, and mummies-oh my! Plus, that still unanswered question of what exactly happened to Irma Vep?

Co-Directed by Matt M. Morrow and Allison Spratt Pearce, the show knows when to pull back and when to turn the dial up on the zaniness. The music choices will have you singing along and keeps the audience's energy up between scene changes. They wisely revamped the Egypt section to re-envision the characterization, while staying true to the original piece and the plot.

In the vein of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, this show is a camp classic and is only more fun when the audience gets involved. In the program, you'll find some directions on what to do or say when you hear certain cues. This also allows for Banville and Jacobs to react to the audience in entertaining ways. While I am normally not an audience participation person, I have been known to yell at Brad and Janet and dance in an aisle, and likewise, IRMA VEP gets more fun the more the audience participates.

The scenic design by Matthew Herman, and the lighting design by Annelise Salazar provide a lovely drawing room, and eerie lighting perfect for a mysterious manor on the moors. The costumes by Brooke Nicole Kesler and the wigs by Peter Herman are fitting and are designed for quick changes at impressive speed.

A shout out to the stage crew who during a scene change took the chance to entertain and change scenery to audience applause. As well as props to the people behind the scenes who are helping with the character's quick changes which are vital to the structure of the show.

The plot at times gets unnecessarily complicated, but then again when has a farce ever thought less is more? The script does offer many one-liners and memorable moments for both Banville and Jacobs, both of whom make the most of them.

THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP is joyfully subversive in its tribute to melodramatic theatre, literary, and cinematic muses. It is the farcical, adventure, horror movie-inspired, drag pastiche that you didn't know you needed this holiday season.

How To Get Tickets

THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP is playing at Diversionary Theatre through December 24th. For tickets and showtimes go to www.diversionary.org

Photo Credit: Bryan Banville and Luke Harvey Jacobs in Diversionary Theatre's THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP Photo by Peggy Ryan



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