Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Review: The Mystery of Irma Vep

The Mystery of Irma Vep, produced by Hedgerow Theatre, directed by Jared Reed, written by Charles Ludlam, reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield.

Review: The Mystery of Irma Vep


By Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

Charles Ludlam's The Mystery of Irma Vep is one of those shows that, since its 1984 Ridiculous Theatre Company premiere, has become an evergreen, suitable for every company, everywhere. It's a comedy that's simple to produce, and a crowd-pleaser requiring just two actors, a bunch of costumes, and a Halloween prop-filled set. I've seen it done crisp and tight, and I've seen it go the direction of Hedgerow Theatre's current production, loose and messy. I'm still waiting for the production that justifies its open spot on everyone's roster for some reason besides sheer economics.

A melange of movie monster madcappery, fog-on-the-moor manor house spookiness, Shakespeare, Poe, and a foray into ancient Egypt, Irma Vep is less about figuring out anagrams and hieroglyphs than it is about wondering how these actors can slip into and out of their costumes and characters so fast. Or, rather, at its best, that's what it ought to be.

Directed by Jared Reed, with Carl Nathaniel Smith and Joel Angelo Guerrero as the show's quick-change artists, this is a long way from its best. Visually, Smith and Guerrero make a good comedic pair: Guerrero is big and round in both feature and form, Smith, pale, fine-boned and slim. Both are required to work some drag. Guerrero plays longtime housemaid Jane and Lord Edgar, master of Mandecrest Manor. Smith is the manor's newest arrival, Lady Enid; its creepy groundskeeper Nicodemus; and a mysterious man sent to assist Lord Edgar during an archaeological dig.

Smith, employing a variety of accents and postures, has some success switching up his characters. However, from the show's first scene, Guerrero remains the same person with the same frantic voice and mien. Whether wigged or suited, he's exhausting to watch, and not in the way Ludlam intended.

Chris Kleckner's cramped set looks cheap, flimsy, and overcrowded, a mess that reads Target-made, rather than to the manor born. Constance Case and Alisa Kleckner's costumes fit poorly and reveal the clothing beneath them, thus ruining the show's fun. If you can plainly see that these actors just plop a dress on top of a suit, why even bother hiding the costume change?

Children might not notice the show's problems, and sure, it's been a long winter, you have to get them out of the house. But the rest of us grown-ups can keep waiting for someone to solve Ludlam's real mystery: Why can't anyone get Irma Vep right?

Through April 6 at Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Rd., Media.

Tickets: $15-$34. Information: 610-565-4211 or www.HedgerowTheatre.org


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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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