Oh, The Horror !
By R. J. Donovan
Santa may have the gift market cornered on Nintendos and Play Stations, but Lyric Stage Company of Boston has its own holiday goodies to offer this year with its December production of "The Mystery of Irma Vep." I rarely use the word zany, but here it's not only accurate but totally appropriate.
"Irma Vep" is a high-camp spoof of all those old black and white gothic, horror, vampire, dark-and-stormy night mysteries set in the moors, or the mountains, or at a remote castle high above the peons below.
Written by legendary Charles Ludlam, "The Mystery of Irma Vep" is all about the spooky doings at Mandacrest -- a Hillcrest Estate near the Hampstead Heath.
A new Lady has come to roost, replacing the previous Grand Dame, one Irma Vep, the victim of a grisly incident that also killed her young son.
Edgar, the Lord of the Manor, isn't quite what he seems. But that doesn't keep Jane the Maid from staunchly defending the memory of his late wife while dismissing the orders (and decorating choices) of her hovering replacement.
Meanwhile, Nicodemus the Handyman (bearing a strong resemblance to Uncle Fester) has a couple of character traits of his own that need tending to.
The fun is that all the comically overblown characters are played by a cast of just two actors -- John Kuntz and Neil A. Casey (above).
The wild tone of the show, along with outlandish references to everything from Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights to Mummy movies and The Maltese Falcon, allows the two guys to chew the scenery with gusto. And they do. Egyptian curses, imprisoned apparitions, bleeding paintings, howling werewolves and an exchange of dueling dulcimers are all part of the mix.
You know you’re in for an fertile evening when, during the first ten seconds of the show, Kuntz (as Jane the Maid), casually dusts an audience member in the front row.
The electric pace of the gender-bending, quick-change marathon sometimes allows the actors to carry on conversations with themselves (through split second timing, inventive body positioning and the creative direction of Spiro Veloudos).
Casey and Kuntz are two of Boston’s best actors. Their talent, range and versatility go without saying. That they can keep the characters, plot lines and the voluminous dialogue straight is amazing. The fact that they make it so sharp and so funny is a grand achievement.
Charles Ludlam was one of the American theater’s most eclectic individuals. The award-winning actor, writer and director named his troupe of players The Ridiculous Theatre Company. “Irma,” which ranks as his most popular piece, certainly falls under the umbrella of that moniker.
“The Mystery of Irma Vep” is skillful lunacy. And with spirited performances by two of Boston’s best, it’s a jocular holiday alternative to chain-dragging ghosts and mice dancing on pointe.
"The Mystery of Irma Vep" is at Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon Street, through December 21. For information, call 617-585-5678.
Production photos: Mark S. Howard
-- OnStage Boston
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