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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Whodunit Comedy is Well Done in Intiman Theatre's The Mystery of Irma Vep

Also see David's review of Risqué Bizness!

The Mystery of Irma Vep
Mark Anders and Richard Ruiz
There's no mystery in what the opening night audience and critics alike thought of Intiman's season opener The Mystery of Irma Vep - we loved it! It's a farcical take on a whodunit, a marathon vehicle for two strong comic actors, and a grand way for Seattle's most consistent professional theatre company to kickoff its 2005 season.

Directed with zeal, zippy pacing and comic invention by Jonathan Moscone, this Charles Ludlam high camp classic is usually staged in smaller, seedier settings than the rather sedate Intiman Playhouse. But Neil Patel's flamboyant and giddily grandiose scenic designs of an overstated British estate (with side-trips to various locales in Egypt) takes full advantage of the larger stage space at his disposal, and lighting designer Geoff Kort matches Patel's efforts with a palette of hilarious lighting effects. As for Katherine Roth's costumes, they are hilarious, lavishly silly creations the likes of which are bound to evoke memories of Carol Burnett's favorite couturier Bob Mackie, at his Hollywood movie spoofing best.

The show is not one of those "I left humming the scenery" efforts though, not by a long shot. In tandem and individually, actors Richard Ruiz and Mark Anders give tour-de-force performances in their marathon multiple roles. Ludlam's rib-tickling, movie-spoofing saga follows a bride plagued by the presence of her spouse's formidable first Mrs. (Rebecca anyone?), a congenial servant bearing the mark of the Werewolf, and a tomb-raiding adventurer who wants his mummy for a playmate. The full-figured and bountifully zany Ruiz gets the showier roles as the progressively more daft, but always veddy, veddy proper Lady Enid Hillcrest, the cursed and wooden legged Nicodemus, and a money grubbing Egyptian guide. Anders more than holds his own as Lady Enid's haunted husband and career tomb raider Lord Edgar, and especially as Edgar's imposing Teutonic/Cockney housekeeper Jane, who may or may not know the secret of Edgar's first wife Irma Vep (an anagram for vampire!). The pair never runs out of breath or comedic inspirations as they change characters, costumes, and make astonishingly quick reappearances with split second timing.

Anders even gets to warble a full rendition of Porter's "Night and Day" while the set and his costume are being changed in the blackout around him, and sound designer Stephen LeGrand makes deft use of some fabulous, familiar sound bytes throughout, including the main theme from Hitchcock's Psycho and in the show's funniest moment, the Weather Girls' disco classic, "It's Raining Men." And, lucky for Seattle audiences, it's raining belly laughs at the Intiman Theatre.

The Mystery of Irma Vep is now running at the Intiman Playhouse, 201 Mercer Street at Seattle Center through My 22, 2005. For more information visit www.intiman.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion



- David-Edward Hughes



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