Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Mystery of Irma Vep
For shows like this, planning and pre-production are supposed to start out with a gleeful director calling up a couple of his most dramatic friends, preferably non-Equity actors. Writer/director Ludlam originally cast himself as half of the onstage team in Greenwich Village, and I hope to God he wasn't very good. And they and their penniless but devoted technical crew cobble together a thrift-shop's worth of costumes and props, and take over half an old bar, oragainthe scariest part of a dusty church basement. And half the comedy comes from just transforming two increasingly desperate actors into eight different characters again and again.
Flash forward to 2020, and set designer Michael Locher and costumer designer Sara Ryung Clement have whipped out the Platinum Amex and gone to town. They end up with a huge skull atop a Brontë-esque castle, all of which is painted a bilious shade of green; and the second Mrs. de Winter's shoulder pads look like hydrogen bombs are going off inside of them. Unjustly burdened by the weight of a thousand graduate degrees, you can feel every one of this show's colossalized 140 minutes tick by in review (but not revue). Every now and then our hopes are rekindled as we witness sparkling little glimmers of the craptastic greatness that might have been, as when a revolving fireplace gets stuck, to our kitschy delight. "That's it! That's it!" I wanted to stand up and shout, as the device stalled unexpectedly. "More of that!" Like much of the rest, a visit to ancient Egypt in the middle of the show is painfully dull, especially when the first two acts are mercilessly smooshed together into one.
Ronald Tavel originated the concept of "Theatre of the Ridiculous," where drag queens and other (broadly) non-serious actors would convey a "preposterous" story based on popular themes. In mass-market terms, we might think of The Addams Family as springing from that same mindset. This Irma Vep is drawn from the same dark waters, but with a lot more deadpan acting, and without as much fun splashing around.
The Mystery of Irma Vep runs through March 8, 2020 at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Webster University campus, 130 Edgar Rd., St. Louis MO. For tickets and information, please call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org.
* Denotes Member, Actors Equity