At one point in Charles Ludlam’s play The Mystery of Irma Vep, which is currently running at the Court Theatre, it is remarked that a man in a dress can’t be all that bad. While this has a different meaning and a bit of irony since it is said by a male actor in a dress and a wig at that moment in the show, one can agree that, no, a man in a dress isn’t all that bad, judging from Sean Graney’s thoroughly delightful production of Ludlam’s play.
Chris Sullivan and Erik Hellman play the eight roles in the production nimbly and with an exquisite skill that makes their performances realistic in a play that satirizes Victorian melodrama and classic mystery and horror films. Sullivan and Hellman manage to change costumes with lightning speed and keeping each of the characters distinct, even when they might have to do the voices for two characters portrayed by them at the same time.
Yes, , the play is campy, but that is intentional with Ludlam’s script and Graney’s production and they manage to do camp and cross-dressing so well that it seems natural in the world of this play; a world where a shot gun can be fired towards the ceiling and a black puppy dog with a red ribbon falls to the stage. Many aspects of the show are over-the-top, but the play still makes the secrets that Lord Edgar (Hellman) is hiding from his new wife, Lady Enid (Sullivan) as they are terrorized by monsters and, in the case of Lady Enid, the maid, Jane (Hellman), very interesting. Ludlam’s script is also seasoned with wordplay, references to Shakespeare, and double entendres, making it a very clever play that manages to stoop to vulgar humor while managing to still use it in a clever way.
Jack Magaw’s scenic design adds to the humorous, suspenseful tone of the show with a Gothic chandelier hanging above the stage with candles in it and the uneven, disconnected, almost cartoonish walls that are made to look like they’re covered with purple striped wallpaper. Alison Siple’s detailed costumes are period appropriate, while managing to be easy enough for the actors to get in and out of them quickly. The production also has sight gags ranging from the use a fabric to the final scene of the play, which adds some more spoofing. Ludlam’s script along with Graney’s direction and Sullivan and Hellman’s performances create a deliciously amusing night of theater that manages to be compelling and outrageously funny.
“The Mystery of Irma Vep” continues through December 13 at the Court Theatre. Tickets are available by calling (773)753-4472 or visiting http://www.CourtTheatre.org.