Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 1, 2014


Robert Sella, Arnie Burton, Robert Sella, Arnie Burton
THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP. Written by Charles Ludlam. Directed by Everett Quinton. At the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street; New York City. April - May 2014. Presented by Red Bull Theater.

This is the 30th anniversary of the late Charles Ludlam's "camp classic" The Mystery of Irma Vep, which starts off as a spoof of Rebecca, set at "Mandercrest," throws in a little of The Wolfman and Dracula as well as Jane Eyre and many other Gothic stories, and almost turns into Psycho before it's over  -- half the fun is getting the references. All of the parts are played by two wonderful actors, who perform (more than) half the time in drag and the rest out of drag. The maid at Mandercrest, Jane (Robert Sella), thinks that the new Lady, a former actress named Enid (Arnie Burton), is a vulgarian who can't hold a candle to the late Lady Irma, whose picture and aura hang over everything and everybody. The one-legged Nicodemus observes as his Lord Hillcrest snares the werewolf that's been devouring their sheep -- but is it the right wolf? Then there's the question of the Egyptian mummy who looks so much like Lady Enid which the Lord discovers in a surprisingly un-dusty tomb ... Admittedly Irma Vep can be pretty silly and it isn't everyone's cup of java, but if you're in the right mood and appreciate extremely talented farceurs, it will have you steadily laughing. Quinton's direction is inventive and the actors seem to be having as much fun as the audience, and there's a hilarious bit when Jane tries to explain to Lady Enid why Nicodemus can't join them in the room [it's the same actor, of course]. Amazingly, there is a plot and everything is explained at the end.

I first saw this in the late nineties with that genius Everett Quinton playing one of the leads. If memory serves me well there was perhaps more "quick change" artistry in that production, with an actor, say, walking around a column and literally becoming a new character in new dress in what seemed like seconds; I just remember being astonished. There's none of that in the production at the Lucille Lortel but don't be too disappointed -- Robert Sella and Arnie Burton are still amazing and spirited as they good-naturedly spoof cinematic types and conventions and occasionally indulge in some old-style silent movie type flamboyance. Fans of classic movies will perhaps enjoy the show best of all -- it runs until May 11th, 2014.

Verdict: Inspired lunacy with very talented performers. ***1/2.

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