This play is hilarious — one laugh after another, and done with style and vivacity. I enjoyed every moment — and smile thinking back to it.
It’s a spooky take-off on Gothic melodrama, Shakespeare, Alfred Hitchcock, the Bronte sisters, Rebecca, and other sources of scary and mysterious goings-on, set mainly in (where else?) an English manor house, Mandacrest Estate. Lord Edgar has recently married Lady Enid but the presence of Edgar’s deceased first wife, Irma Vep, whose portrait dominates the sitting room, is inescapable. All the characters including Edgar and Enid, the one-legged swineherd Nicodemus, the maid Jane and four others, are played by a total of two actors of the same sex — as per the author’s instructions because the cross-dressing, as well as the hilarious costumes and faster-than-the-speed-of-light character and costume changes, are all part of the fun.
And fun it is as the play mounts from one wildly-imaginative episode to the next. Each time you think you’ve caught on to what Ludlam is doing, he ups the ante with a farther inventive leap.
But the play wouldn’t work for three delicious acts if it were only a joke. As a married couple, and as lovers, Lord Edgar and Lady Enid need to find the way to one another, while embattled by werewolves and vampires and life’s complicated back stories. All the camp and ironies in the world wouldn’t make it interesting if it weren’t, bottom line, about genuine characters — even if they are nuttily hyperbolic.
David Greenspan, whether playing the former actress given to dramatics, Lady Enid, or the low-class swineherd in a greatcoat worthy of Sherlock Holmes — to say nothing of a stint as an Egyptian dancing girl — is brilliant. Tom Aulino who shifts in the twinkling of an eye from Maid Jane dusting the furniture to Lord of the Manor dragging in the huge wolf he’s just shot (oh no, the wrong wolf!) is equally a marvel. The actors seem to defy the laws of physics in making those changes of costume and character. But they do, with charismatic wit and breathtaking intensity.
What a clever play! What a perfect production!
The Mystery of Irma Vep plays at Bay Street Theatre on the wharf in Sag Harbor, Long Island, through July 28, 2013.