By Charles Ludlam
Directed by Sean Graney
At Court Theatre
Hilarious two act satire of theatre and film genres is a true marvel
For those not familiar with the work of Charles Ludlum (1943-1987)–an actor, director and playwright for the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in NYC. Ludlum loved to be in drag therefore many of his works involved cross-dressing. His The Mystery of Irma Vep is a self proclaimed “ridiculous penny dreadful.” The two person play with himself and his estranged lover, Everett Quinton, was a tremendous success playing to 331 performances.
Among the wonders that is The Mystery of Irma Vep is the fact that two actors player all the six roles and each role contains a complete costume change including wigs, facial hair and elaborate dresses. The speed and accuracy of the character changes was amazing. Both Erik Hellman and Chris Sullivan offered outstanding performances in their multiple roles. Kudos to the 6-7 dressers and stage hands whose aid made the show possible.
The Mystery of Irma Vep is a hilarious adventure mystery and door-slamming farce that is part horror movie, part melodrama, part Grand-Guignol, and part drag show pastiche featuring wordplay, Shakespeare and Ibsen quotes with much physical comedy. With 35 costume changes and an assortment of clever props and eerie lighting (designed by Heather Gilbert) on the magnificent drawing room set (by Jack Magaw), Irma Vep is two hours of high camp humor and biting satire that is filled with many belly-laughs.
The plot moves through several genres that begs our full attention but we laugh a lot and admire the terrific work from Hellman and Sullivan. This brilliant play is a tour de force for Hellman and Sullivan as they change innumerable dramatis personae . Victorian melodrama and classic film noir work together to offer a sensational evening of theatre.
At Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL