Review: The Mystery of Irma Vep

mystery-of-irma-vep  robert-sella-left-and-arnie-burton-in-the-

This is easily Ridiculous Theatre legend Charles Ludlam’s most-produced play, and the fantastic production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre richly demonstrates why. The Mystery of Irma Vep is an affectionate parody of horror stories and thrillers from Shakespeare to Alfred Hitchcock. From the secret crypts of Egypt, where mummies cast enthralling charms, to the murky moors of Mandacrest Mansion, where werewolves and vampires are constantly creeping around, this highly theatrical spoof, if done well – as it is here – is truly astonishing.

On the most fundamental level, it’s really important that somebody is doing a full-scale revival of a play by Charles Ludlam in New York City. The Ridiculous Theatrical Company was one of the most profoundly influential queer theater companies of the last half-century and Ludlam was the playwright, leading actor and driving force behind that Greenwich Village institution.

But there is something else that makes this a really authentic wonder. Ludlam wrote this two-hander for himself and his lover Everett Quinton, as an expression of their love for the theatre, and each other. Quinton, who continued running the RTC for ten years after Ludlam passed, is directing this production, filling it with truly “Ridiculous”detail, as well as a surprising amount of warmth and romanticism.

Irma Vep is, above all, a tour de force for two actors who have to do insane amounts of costume and character changes, some of which are nearly instantaneous. Robert Sella and Arnie Burton are ideally suited for this show, with technique to spare, and a willingness to go to the very limits of camp without ever leaving their character behind.

I’ve directed Everett as an actor on two separate occasions, and came away from both experiences learning so much from him about the making of theatre, Ridiculous and otherwise. So I am not at all surprised that a Ludlam classic directed by him (with two sensational actors) is easily one of the best shows in town, certainly the funniest. Highly, highly recommended – this is truly essential theatregoing.

For tickets, click here.

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