The Column Online



by Charles Ludlam

WaterTower Theatre

Director - Terry Martin
Stage Manager - Stew Awalt
Assistant Stage Manager - Ash Willeby
Set Designer - Clare Floyd DeVries
Lighting Designer - Jason S. Foster
Costume Designer - Michael Robinson
Sound Designer - Curtis Craig


Regan Adair, multiple roles
Bryan T. Donovan, multiple roles

Reviewed Performance: 10/1/2012

Reviewed by Joel Taylor, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

The Mystery of Irma Vep - A Penny Dreadful was first produced by Ludlam's Ridiculous Theatrical Company, opening off-off-Broadway in New York City's Greenwich Village in September 1984 and closing in April 1986. The show originally starred Ludlam as Lady Enid, the new mistress of the manor, and a butler, and Everett Quinton as Lord Edgar Hillcrest, the master of the manor, and the housekeeper (among other characters).

The "Cast and Crew" won a Special Drama Desk Award. Ludlam and Quinton won the 1985 Obie Award for Ensemble Performance. The show was later produced off-Broadway at the Westside Theatre from September 1998 through July 1999, with Quinton and Stephen DeRosa.

The production won the 1999 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Revival, along with Outer Critics Circle Award nominations for Outstanding Revival of a Play, Outstanding Lighting Design (John Lee Beatty), and Outstanding Costume Design (William Ivey Long).

The term "penny dreadful" originally referred to a type of British fiction publication made famous in the 19th century. This publication usually featured lurid serial stories separated out over a several week time frame, each part costing one penny. However, the term eventually included a wider variety of publications that included cheap, sensationalized fiction. The style of this show makes very good use of the cliffhanger style that may have been seen in the "Dark Shadows" series, or early television versions of "Buck Rogers".

Irma Vep was written and performed as a "campy" satire of several types of theatrical and film genres, including melodrama, farce and suspense, as well as the occasional jabs and references to Shakespeare. At one point in the show the actors very dramatically point out that Vep is also an anagram for the word "vampire"

The Mystery of Irma Vep very much lives up to the billing as a farce and satire, at times over the top campy with the air of mystery and suspense. This is a comedy that is well directed by Terry Martin and brilliantly acted by Regan Adair and Bryan T. Donovan, two actors playing eight roles that at times include lord and lady, maid and servant, mummy, vampire, werewolf, or Egyptian guide and belly-dancer - all to the delight of the audience.

The setting takes place in the home of the Mandacrest Estate, the home of Lord Edgar, an Egyptologist, and Lady Enid. Lady Enid is Lord Edgar's second wife. From the opening scene we learn that Lord Edgar's first wife, Irma Vep, plays a mysterious and commanding role in the household.

Clare Floyd Devries designed a set that brings you into the manor and created an air of expectation. The use of grays and subdued colors, with a flash of colors to emphasize attention to specific features, was extremely well thought out. The design included secret doors and other fun and mysterious surprises. This was a well-designed space that seemed gothic in design and somewhat whimsical in nature. The set used for the Egyptian tomb scene was fun and continued the campy and vampy theme.

Jason S. Foster, as Lighting Designer, created an eerie, forbidding and mysterious mood that included lightning, a seemingly working fireplace and candles on the fireplace hearth. It should be noted that strobe lights are used during the show for effects.

Sound Designer Curtis Craig used a wide variety of sounds to create moods that ranged from eerie and spooky to mysterious, lively and even romantic. To borrow the overused phrase, "It was a dark and stormy night", would be an apt description of the opening scene. The performance opens with lightning and thunder that was so convincing you may also look around for the rain that might be falling. The provided sound effects very effectively engaged the audience in the action on stage with events that included gunshots for "bullets" that we watched bounce around the room until striking the portrait of Lady Irma, causing the portrait to appear to bleed. In one scene, Jane and Lady Enid played "dueling" dulcimers. The dulcimer music matched the hand motions on stage as well as creating a scene that seemed humorously absurd. Another fun use of the music and sound effects was Lord Edgar who was exploring the Egyptian tomb and located the mummy/dancing girl.

Costume Designer Michael Robinson was given a challenge for this show. The costumes needed to portray the time period, set each character, allow for movement and create believability on stage. The costumes also needed to be removed, covered and/or replaced in the mere seconds that the actor stepped off stage, only to come back on stage as a different character a few seconds later. There were several scenes in which the actor would leave the stage as one character only to appear at another entrance as a different character.

In one notable scene, Lady Enid is having a conversation in the doorway with Nicodemus and is then attacked by the werewolf. All of which was very convincingly played by the same actor, showing different elements of the costume and voice changes. Robinson seems to have not only accepted the challenge, but magnificently succeeded.

The costumes were consistent with the time period of the show, successfully helped to enhance the characteristics of the character being portrayed by the actor, and were so serviceable the audience was rarely able to tell that there were other elements of costumes being worn and allowed for the quick change needed for the timing of the show.

Incredible performances were offered by both Regan Adair and Bryan T Donavan. The energy, enthusiasm and adroit character transformations that each of these actors displayed during the entire show was simply amazing and well worth seeing and experiencing. Throughout the show, the actors play a character that is the opposite gender, a mythical monster or a character with a wooden leg. Each character portrayed was well established with defined characteristics.

The actors' ability to successfully transform into so many different characters and be believable were a testament to the directing and acting choices. The design of the set, with obvious entrances and a few hidden doors, also made this very successful.

The Mystery of Irma Vep at the WaterTower Theatre in Addison will have you alternately on the edge of your seat, holding your breath in anticipation, and then laughing at the absurdity of a situation. The production and performance team came together very well to present a show that is very much worth seeing.

WaterTower Theatre at the Addison Theatre Centre
15650 Addison Road, Addison Texas 75001
Performances run through October 21st

*Please note, there is use of strobe lighting in this production*

7:30pm Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8:00pm Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:00pm Sundays

There are two Saturday performances, Oct. 13th and Oct. 20th, at 2:00pm.

Tickets are $25.00-$40.00, depending on the performance day. Senior tickets are $22.00-$40.00.