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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘Irma Vep’ redeemed by shenanigan-rich second act

    There are ancient Egyptian boobs, vampires, werewolves and jokes made at the expense of archaic theater conventions. If ever the twenty-somethings of Tucson were to infiltrate the herds of local socialites and snowbirds — well, this still probably wouldn’t be the time.

    Called “”Charles Ludlam’s great comic spoof,”” “”The Mystery of Irma Vep”” follows a newlywed couple, their maid, their servant and the other supernatural residents of Mandacrest estate. With a mess of mysterious deaths, the suggestion of a murderous wolf and the continued presence of a thought-to-be-dead first wife, the show examines superstition and even briefly ventures to Egypt in an attempt to solve the mysteries of life and not-quite death.

    Though in its farcical liveliness, acute self-awareness and frequent vulgarity, “”The Mystery of Irma Vep”” seems progressive, the Arizona Theatre Company’s insistence on elaborate sets and overly-complex plots limits the power of even this seemingly sexy show.

    But it’s not bad. The innovative use of just two actors to play the parts of eight characters — including a maid, a husband and wife and a werewolf — isn’t just resourceful, it’s the point. Lines like “”You’re doing the work of three people,”” when spoken to the maid, take on more meaning for the audience that knows that the actor indeed occupies three roles. Further, even if the first half plods, bogged down by an over-elaborate Gothic set complete with a cobwebbed, red-eyed moose head and a glowing fireplace crowned by a cluttered mantel, the second half soars.

    The end of the intermission finds the audience in front of a refreshingly simple pyramid/palm tree/sphinx backdrop, watching a mouse scamper off stage wearing a fez. In a scene involving topless mummy resurrection, a Greek key-painted Weber grill and goofy hieroglyphics, such as a crudely drawn butt for the conjunction ‘but,’ the action picks up. This type of wordplay prevails: The mummy, returning to her sarcophagus sniffs her armpits and says “”sphinx;”” an offer of a flask to combat frights of haunting is accompanied by the wise tidbit “”fight fire with fire and spirits with spirits.””

    The fun poked at theater conventions also lightens the mood. Throughout, cracks of lightning descend, dependable emphasis for the cheesy scene-closing lines.

    Worth noting: The middle-agers in the audience by and large laughed hysterically throughout, while the younger crowd members could be heard saying, “”I don’t think it’s that funny,”” and “”Maybe it gets better?”” The one bone surely thrown to the young among the crowd — a Rebecca Black reference, of all things — met with unsure tittering and a handful of genuine laughs.

    In all, “”Irma Vep”” (“”Vampire anagrammatized!””) is just like its name. Self-aware? Definitely. Clever? Sure. Funny? Maybe if you’re in the right demographic.

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