BWW Review: Costumes, Comedy and Camp Come Together in THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP at The Repertory Theatre St. Louis
There is a lot to wig out about with The Rep's production of The Mystery of Irma Vep. A rapid-fire mélange of B-movie insanity and camp hijinks, it is a throwback to an era when bawdy and raucous theater was a sign of rebellion.
Written by Charles Ludlam who cut his teeth with the Theater of the Ridiculous movement of the 1960's, it has been touted as the most performed play in America.
Despite having roots in Vaudevillian theater, The Mystery of Irma Vep was first staged in New York, in 1984, during the height of AIDS crisis. As a result, its overt camp overtones, slapstick tempo and often uncouth humor covers a deeper layer of sadness and fear. Thus, peeling back the farciful fun reveals it to be a profoundly astute play about the human condition.
Smartly directed by Nelson T. Eusebio III, this ostentatious absurdity in two acts is both peculiar and horrific. Its weirdly kooky plot centers on Lord Edgar, his beloved Lady Enid and the bizarre happenings occurring at their luxurious estate. Supernatural, superficial and rip roaringly funny, it offers audiences a bit of everything; vampires, werewolves, family secrets, burning passion and a painting that has a life of its own. If that was not enough there is also a revived mummy that stirs inside its coffin.
In a season that has often contained intensely powerful drama, The Rep's version of The Mystery of Irma Vep unabashedly confronts the traditional theater experience with a relentless barrage of sidesplitting laughs, giggles and uproarious fun. Filled with almost as many costume changes as twisted gags, the proceedings are fueled by the dynamic tandem of Esteban Andres Cruz and Tommy Everett Russell (both debuting with the company) who together create constant hilarity by never taking themselves too seriously.
This is particularly true with Cruz whose performance is equal parts Freddie Mercury and Rip Taylor, As Lord Edgar and the dutiful maid Jane, Cruz prances, preens and fearlessly pounces on every comedic morsel presented, resulting in a full throttle performance that meshes perfectly with Russell who plays along in the shenanigans with a more nuanced turn that finds him navigating the roles of Lady Enid and the oafish Nicodemus. Onstage they are both incredibly gifted performers.
Staged on scenic designer Michael Locher 's functional yet freakish sets, The Mystery of Irma Vep is built on a serious of off-kilter scenarios culled together from various genres and character archetypes. The thinness of the plot is a erroneous however, because the entire affair is a rip-roaring endeavor highlighted by the performances of two shining stars whose expert timing and brash physical comedy make for an ludicrous romp that is not to be missed.
The Mystery of Irma Vep plays at the Virginia Jackson Browning Theatre through March 8th. For showtimes and more information, visit http://www.repstl.org