Berkshire Theatre Group: ‘The Mystery of Irma Vep’ Ludlam over easy
By Jeffrey Borak
Berkshire Eagle Staff
STOCKBRIDGE -- Wolves howl; werewolves bask in moonlight; mummies and vampires have their night and the spirits of Alfred Hitchcock, Daphne Du Maurier, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and William Shakespeare, among many others, line the shadows of Charles Ludlam’s unashamedly theatrical "The Mystery of Irma Vep," at Berkshire Theatre Group’s Fitzpatrick Main Stage.
Restraint is not a word commonly used to describe Ludlam’s work but, under Aaron Mark’s steady direction, Tom Hewitt and Bill Bowers, two adroit and sublimely resourceful actors, go about their business in dutiful professional manner with barely a nudge-nudge-wink-wink to be found anywhere.
Set chiefly in the sitting room of Lord Edgar Hillcrest’s Mandacrest estate-- atmospherically designed by Randall Parsons -- "The Mystery of Irma Vep" chronicles the efforts of Lord Edgar’s new wife, Lady Enid, to fill the shoes of her still-mourning husband’s late wife, Lady Irma, whose portrait dominates the room from its perch on the wall above the fireplace.
Throw in a family curse, a housekeeper with ulterior motives, the mystery surrounding Irma’s death, the strange disappearance of a young boy, a wolf who haunts the estate’s grounds and an Egyptian mummy that may or may not hold the key to everything and you have a keen sense of what’s at play.
Bowers and Hewitt -- who, between them, play all seven of the play’s characters -- begin slowly but gather momentum and fall into an easy, dutiful style that acknowledges the calculated wild improbabilities of plot -- and seemingly impossibly rapid costume changes -- without overplaying their hand.
In the end, "Irma Vep" is a skillful diversion that makes no pretense at being anything other than a knowing exercise in pretense and transformation -- the actor’s art and craft. Theater Review
THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP: A PENNY DREADFUL by Charles Ludlam. Directed by Aaron Mark; associate director, Michael Crowler; scenic designer, Randall Parsons; costume designer, Wade Laboissoniere; lighting designer, Alan C. Edwards; sound designer, Brendan F. Doyle; composer, Our Lady J. Through July 19. Eves.: 8 Mon., Tue., Thu.-Sat.; 7 Wed. Mats.: 2 Sat. Berkshire Theatre Group, Fitzpatrick Main Stage, 83 E. Main St., Stockbridge. Tickets: $42-$62. (413) 997-4444; BerkshireTheatreGroup.org. 1 hour 41 minutes
Jane Twisden Bill Bowers
Lady Enid Hillcrest Tom Hewitt
Lord Edgar Hillcrest Bill Bowers
An Intruder Bill Bowers
Alcazar Tom Hewitt
Irma Vep "Herself"
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