February l8, 2011 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall.
In the winter of our discontent with Berkshire weather woes, I can think of nothing more capable of making everyone happy than to urge them to hurry to the Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare and Co. for two hours of hysterical delight where they will be swept into the madness of The Mystery of Irma Vep, an extravaganza of horror and surprises, full of quotes and situations ripped from films, poems, and novels, from Hitchcock to James Joyce.
The two hour play, written by Charles Ludlum has specific requirements for production. It must contain only two actors who play its eight roles, and the two actors who keep changing costumes frantically, must be of the same sex so that the cross-dressing gets its hysterical chance as the two whirl in and out of the thirty five costumes required by the rapid whirlwind plot. (Costume designer Kara D Midlam has risen brilliantly to that challenge.)
The main setting for the play (although magically it briefly shifts to mummies and Egypt) is Mandacrest Estate, on a desolate moor in England where the owner, Lord Edgar Hillcrest while still mourning the death (by werewolf ) of his first wife, Irma Vip, a great painting of whom dominates the intricate set, has married again and the new wife, Lady Enid, must contend with more wolves and a weird pair of servants.
These two open the play with each in a major character. We see Ryan Winkles first as the formidable maid, Jane Twisden-who when she goes out one door to get tea, comes in by a different door, almost instantly as Lord Edgar himself. As for the other actor in this duo, Josh McCabe, he is, one feels, ever present as the silly new wife Lady Enid, who is terrified of one of his other major manifestations, Nicodemus Underwood, the demented swineherd who is missing one leg. In this magical play he can go out one door and enter, within seconds from another.
The plot reels on with both of these fine actors constantly appearing and reappearing as someone else, with the plot suddenly swooping some of the characters off to Egypt and returning with a mummy. Etc etc . Surprise after surprise. Indeed the program warns, “Regardless of what you see on stage, no animals were harmed in the mounting of this production.” Consider yourself warned.
With the one fifteen minute intermission (needed to transform the ornate decaying mansion into an Egyptian tomb) the running time is two hours of glee. How the actors even remember who they at the moment are, let alone what accent each should at the moment be employing, one marvels at what must be going on back stage in the literally seconds of costume changes, replete with hairdos,.
Kristopher Karstedt has designed two intricate sets that can be quickly transformed; Michael Pfeiffer keeps the sound scarey; and Stephen Ball’s lights add to the ever shifting mayhem. As for the two actors who slip in and out of those 35 costumes. They are magnificent.
This play, by Kevin G. Coleman, is such fun you may decide you have to see it twice. Enjoy.