The Mystery of Irma Vep

Two actors juggle a melange of roles and a score of costume changes in this not-to-be-missed farce.

David Greenspan and Tom Aulino in <i>The Mystery of Irma Vep</i>
David Greenspan and Tom Aulino in The Mystery of Irma Vep
(© Jerry Lamonica)

Bay Street Theatre‘s The Mystery of Irma Vep features eight characters of both genders, all of which are played vigorously and with great versatility by only two actors. Tom Aulino and David Greenspan’s uncanny abilities epitomize the artistic value of theater in its finest form. The actual mystery of Charles Ludlam’s play is somewhat intriguing, but it only serves as a complement to the creative, whip-smart costume changes and staging. Applauds will be heard at every swift flip of a dress and flick of a wrist, as this farcical, incredibly enjoyable show unfolds.

The stage is set in Mandacrest Estate, on the moors. The sky is foggy outside the Victorian home, which set designer John Arnone has cleverly ornamented with antique furniture, an oil painting, and a functioning yet ornate fireplace. This home is occupied by Lord Edgar Hillcrest (Aulino), a naive Egyptologist, and his second wife, Lady Enid (David Greenspan). When we meet Lord Hillcrest, he is still recuperating from the mysterious loss of his first wife, Ms. Irma Vep. However, the most entertaining aspects of the show feature the house staff. Jane (Aulino), a prickly, wide-eyed maid, and Nicodemus (Greenspan), a limping doofus of a groundsman, aid the Hillcrests as they take on vampires, an Egyptian princess, and werewolves. Though the plot is at times a bit too involved and tedious, the actors brilliantly spew one-liners along the way, making the show a series of memorable moments. In one of her best ditties, Jane proclaims, “Virginity is the balloon in the carnival of life. It vanishes with the first prick.”

Aulino is triumphant as the crotchety Jane, and equally transformative as the innocuous Edgar. Many of the show’s thirty-five to forty costume changes are experienced by Greenspan, whose swift conversion from Nicodemus to Enid’s conceited twit of an ex-actress is dexterous and delightful. Director Kenneth Elliott brings out such specific traits in each character, sometimes allowing the audience to forget that they are watching the same two people. Elliott’s impeccable staging, which is rounded out by Barry McNabb’s sharp choreography, includes integral prop placement, staging, and precise timing. Because of Bay Street Theatre’s structure, Elliott is tasked with manipulating the single set so that what was once a Victorian home would in the second act become an Egyptian pyramid …only in the third act to be changed back to the former. Edgar and his Egyptian guide, Alcazar, crawl around a black stage with minimal props, lowering themselves through imaginary crevices on ropes, completely convincing their audience of the journey’s distance (no matter how misguided it may be).

Mark Mariani’s costume design coupled with Gia Pluma’s hair design and wigs are perfectly attuned to the period and the humorous situations. Enid’s grandiose satin-pink bed robe is enhanced with diamond closures, while Pev Amri, an Egyptian princess, wears her bare breasts on the outside of her satin blue gown. Greenspan even embodies the bosomy character by wearing long eyelashes, aiding in showing off his womanly wiles.

By the end, The Mystery of Irma Vep is no longer much of a mystery, as Irma Vep is an anagram for the word “vampire.” Nevertheless, the mélange of plot points and plays on words don’t matter by the end when, it should be mentioned, every single character does get to take their own bow. Bay Street board member Richard Kind described this theatrical experience best when he introduced Irma Vep at its opening performance. “It’s not dental work. It’s fun.” Extraordinary fun at that.

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