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Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful is a “modern classic” – the most popular play in the playwright’s catalogue of ridiculous pieces. I say ridiculous because that was his most frequent intension. As founder of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in 1967, Ludlam’s works were projections of his uncanny knack to spoof conventions and create fantastic avant-garde plays that were both entertaining and purposeful.

IRT’s UpperStage production of Ludlam’s most famous and durable play, skillfully directed by James Still and peopled by the onstage creations of Rob Johansen and Marcus Truschinski, is faithful to this absurd and twisted vision. It is at once a classic story of the troubled rich, a horror-filled tale of dread, a spoofish exploration of theatre convention, a lark, a creepy film noir, goofy, slapsticky, over-the-top, quick-changing, emotionally charged and above all, unique.

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Rob Johansen (back) as Nicodemus Underwood and Marcus Truschinski as Lord Edgar Hillcrest in IRT’s “The Mystery of Irma Vep”

Tour de force performances by both Mssrs. Johansen and Truschinski are certainly at the top of the theatrical wealth that is presented here. The two veteran actors lay into their multi-roled assignments with relish – resulting in full energy, totally committed high jinx on both their parts. You can readily see the inventiveness that came out of their rehearsals, which they seem to carry into their live performances with great enjoyment and satisfaction. They both convey a happy looseness, which is exactly what their characters need.

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Marcus Truschinski as Jane Twisden and Rob Johansen as Lady Enid Hillcrest in IRT’s “The Mystery of Irma Vep”

But it is not just the actors that make this such a successful piece. The set by scenic designer Tom Buderwitz and his crew is stylish and perfect for the two-man show, with plenty of exit doors to allow the comings and goings of the quick-dressing characters. Couple that with the sharp lighting effects as created by Betsy Cooprider-Bernstein and the specially designed for speedy changing costumes by Guy Clark, and art meets function in a most agreeable way. The major contributions to the overall setting as provided by composer Lindsay Jones’ soaring sound track cannot be overlooked. The booming organ dominates the breaks and several more subtle instrumentals add to tensions and expectations.

This is a hugely enjoyable, highly crafted show with all the creative functions of theatre at play. The standing ovation it received was well-deserved. The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful continues on IRT’s UpperStage through February 14th. Schedules and ticket information can be found at http://www.irtlive.com or by calling the ticket office at 317.635.5252.

  • Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • Photos by Zach Rosing
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