THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP (Curio): A comedy of labor

curio theatre mystery of irma vep

Rich Bradford and Paul Kuhn in THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP. Photo by Rebecca Gudelunas

It is a truth (sometimes) universally acknowledged that good work looks easy. What then is there to make of the very labored Mystery of Irma Vep at Curio Theatre? After watching two hours of Paul Kuhn and Rich Bradford run around, vamp, change costumes, switch voices, murder, lust, excavate, drink, menace, and die I was left with a depleting feeling of exhaustion. Unfortunately, Steve Wright’s production lacks the tonal consistency or the fun that Charles Ludlam’s madcap gothic spoof requires.

This is not to say the play is without ideas. Jane (Bradford), the mysterious maid of Mandacrest Estate, is played with a heavy Caribbean accent. Bringing a post-colonial bite to the proceedings works on some levels, and perhaps are intended to soften the blow of rather cringe-inducing send-ups of Orientalist motifs, The physical aspects of the production (sets by Kuhn and costumes by Aetna Gallagher) are appropriately tacky and grandiose. It seems, though, that a more precise directorial hand might have tightened up the costume changes, scenic transitions, and comedic timing.

At present much of the humor coming from the stage seems to be about the show not quite working: “Isn’t it funny that my mustache fell off?” “Isn’t it amusing that I am waiting for the other actor to change costumes?” There is so much more comic potential in this work if these aspects are miraculously seamless. The Mystery of Irma Vep launches a season of comedy for Curio’s 15th anniversary. I am hopeful that as the run continues, actors and stagehands will grow more comfortably into their roles. What fun that could be.

[Curio Theatre Company, 4740 Baltimore Avenue] October 30-November 2, 2019; 
curiotheatre.org

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About the author

Joshua Herren

Josh Herren is a writer and third-grade teacher living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Josh has a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated summa cum laude in history (American concentration) and art history, with a minor in gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. His thesis "Furious Acts: AIDS and the Art(s) of Activism, 1985–1993" won the Rose Award for Outstanding Thesis. Josh is passionate about education, theater, and convincing others that Philadelphia is the greatest city on earth.