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Incline’s “Irma Vep” Provides Plenty of Summer Camp

Review by Doug Iden of The Mystery of Irma Vep: Incline Theatre

Consider Halloween in July. What could be better on a warm summer evening than visits from werewolves, vampires, ghosts, mummies and other assorted crazies?  This is not P. T. Barnum but rather the comedy farce The Mystery of Irma Vep which is now showing at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater.

This hilarious, bizarre and outrageous show parodies Victorian melodrama, horror stories and the Alfred Hitchcock movie Rebecca among others.  Two actors, Ryan Poole and Tyler Gau, portray multiple characters (both men and women) in a major acting tour-de-force.  Just keeping the accents straight ranging from Scottish to English to Egyptian and from male to female is a major accomplishment.  The play is propelled by quick cuts, lighting flashes, exaggerated expressions, rapid costume changes, sight gags and lots of door slamming.

There is a plot which parallels that of Rebecca but this is not a play where you worry much about the story.  The show is funny-bone driven and not plot or character driven.  Just sit back and allow the insanity to inundate you.  If you “go with the flow”, you’ll enjoy the play, but if you are trying to figure out what’s happening, you may get a little lost.  The humor derives from a combination of genre spoofing, physical slapstick and significant verbal innuendo with many deliciously outrageous puns.  There are also comedic allusions to other genres of movies, theater and music.

The story, such as it is, is about Egyptologist Lord Edgar who has remarried after the tragic death of his first wife Irma Vep (which is an anagram). He is entranced by the second wife Lady Enid but is still mesmerized by Irma.  Most of the action takes place in Lord Edgar’s manor home which is overseen by the maid (Jane) who is still distraught by Irma’s death and dutifully maintains a small shrine beneath Irma’s portrait in the living room.  A stableman, Nicodemus, is simultaneously trying to seduce Jane while fighting his own demons (wolves?).  Lady Enid is attacked by a monster (vampire?) which leads Lord Edgar to Egypt to find a missing tomb and seek answers from an ancient mummy.  Then the fun begins.

One of the zaniest aspects is the quick costume changing. Three dressers, Keri Baggs, Steven Ducker and Richard Zenk, are listed in the playbill helping the actors change costumes, designed by Caren Brady.  The costumes are fairly elaborate representing Victorian dress and the actors are frequently flipping between men’s and women’s costumes.  Sometimes the plot is advanced by one actor on stage and, at other times, you hear the action strictly by the voices of the characters off stage.  The foreign accents actually help distinguish between the characters when you cannot see them and both actors are true to the accents.

Director Bob Brunner keeps the action moving well assisted by a busy Stage Manager Holly Davis.

Lighting becomes a bit of a character as well with red (blood?) lights accenting the exaggerated horror plus frequent highlights of Irma Vep’s portrait which also bleeds at one point. The audio completes the illusion with a combination of eerie music, lightning flashes, a strange tapping sound and the frequent howling of wolves.

As usual, Brett Bowling’s set design plays a major role in the production. There is a static set this time with most of the action in the manor house but with a brief interlude into Egypt.  The main set is almost cartoonish in keeping with the play and somewhat reminiscent of the Addams Family comics.  There are two doors which receive a lot of action, one going into other parts of the house and one set of sliding doors leading to the outside.  An Egyptian sarcophagus (with a rather unusual cartouche) plays a significant role in the action.

So, if you haven’t taken your campy trip this summer and would like to ramp with Vep, spend some time in the “ghoul, ghoul of the evening” so the The Mystery of Irma Vep continues at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater through August 5.  Their next production is Jesus Christ Superstar running from August 15 through September 9.