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Incline’s “Irma Vep” Shows the Dark Side of the Farce

Review by Laurel Humes of The Mystery of Irma Vep: Incline Theatre

The Mystery of Irma Vep, now onstage at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, is a slapstick comic mix of werewolves, vampires and mummies, set in an English manor ruled by the ghostly portrait of the former lady of the house.

Oh, and two male actors play seven characters. The crew of dressers is larger than the cast!

But the real mystery is why Incline Theater chose to produce this play. All best efforts by the actors and technical crew cannot, in the end, overcome the weak script.

Incline has done top-notch productions of basically silly shows in the past. I’m remembering Rocky Horror Show last year and Monty Python’s Spamalot in March. Those shows mixed plenty of slapstick and over-the-top acting with an ingredient missing from Irma Vep – wit.

The 1984 play by the late Charles Ludlam is described as a satire of Victorian melodrama. I guess I missed that English lit course.

The Irma Vep of the title is the deceased first wife of Lord Edgar (Tyler Gau). He is now married to Lady Enid (Ryan J. Poole), who jealously wants to remove all traces of Irma from the home, including her candlelit portrait.

The two other major characters are the sometimes creepy manor staff, Nicodemus (Poole) and Jane (Gau).

There is a vampire attack. Edgar, a historian of Egypt, travels there hoping to find answers among the mummies. He is unknowingly swindled, in one of the show’s most humorous scenes.

Edgar returns with a sarcophagus, whose mummy joins the vampire and werewolf, plus human characters, as the mystery is eventually and slightly gruesomely solved.

For a gimmick, I guess, the playwright decided all the characters, human and otherwise, should be played by two actors. For the most part, Gau and Poole (and their dressers) do it well and stay in whichever character they are playing. The changes are quick, and off-stage voices used to good effect.

The cast was rewarded with laughs from an appreciative audience on a recent evening. Still, when this was the biggest laugh line – “Marry an Egyptologist and find out he’s hung up on his mummy” – I did long for Monty Python.

The Mystery of Irma Vep continues through Aug. 5 at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, 801 Matson Place, in the Incline District of East Price Hill. For tickets, call 513-241-6550 or go to www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.