The Mystery Of Irma Vep at The Jungle Theater

Bradley Greenwald (left) and Steven Epp in the Jungle's The Mystery Of Irma Vep. Photo by Michal Daniel.

Mandacrest.  Hampstead Heath.  Home of the tweedily eccentric Lord Edgar – he of the Ronald Colman mustache and the crushing dark secret.  Freshly married to Lady Enid – she of the heaving bosom, the swirling blonde hair, and the dark secret.  Then there is Nicodemus Underwood, the caretaker with the impossibly thick Scottish accent (“We moost lairn t’fate fare wit fare.”) and the dark secret.  Watching over them all is the black-clad housekeeper Jane Twisden – she of the evil smile and the darkest secret of all.  Out there, upon the storm-blasted moor, live creatures, vile creatures both living and undead.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!

This is great fun.  The Mystery Of Irma Vep (at the Jungle, 2951 Lyndale Ave. S., through August 1, is the late great (he died too young, in 1987, at the height of the AIDS plague) Charles Ludlam‘s paean to Daphne du Maurier, A. Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, et al.  Also, the play is Ludlam’s homage to the quick change artists of the 19th century, for all of the above characters, and then some, are played by two actors.  They make costume changes and character shifts with breath-taking rapidity.  Story logic?  There’s not much of that going on, but who cares.  This piece is a playground for two actors who want to have at this material with wild campy frenzy.

Are there performers anywhere who could do this show with more gusto and pure stagecraft than Steven Epp and Bradley Greenwald?  It’s hard to imagine.  Epp, as many of you know, was a long time Jeune Lunie and here he puts their tradition of over-the-top physical comedy to great use, playing Jane with nasty relish, and Lord Edgar with goofy delight.  Similarly, Greenwald uses his experience with musical comedy, as well as his work at CTC to excellent effect.  His Lady Enid has huge breathy presence and his wooden-legged Nicodemus will have you hooting in astonishment.  They make it all look easy.  It’s not.

As always, the design team at the Jungle turns in great work: set designer Joel Sass (who also directs) oversees lighting designer Barry Browning, costume designer Matthew L. LeFebvre, sound designer Sean Healey, composer Greg Brosofske and wig designer Andrea Moriarty-Dahlberg.  They make the Jungle a jewel-box.

This is the summertime show to see.  The Tuesday night performance we saw was sold out.  This bodes well for the theater, but poorly for those of you who like to do your theater-going spur-of-the-moment.  Call the BO, make your rezzies, put this one on your calendar.  The Mystery Of Irma Vep is an unprecedented opportunity to see two genuine Minnesota treasures together onstage.  Plus: the Jungle has excellent a/c.

Highly recommended.

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